Instant Pot®: Yay or nay?

Last Black Friday, I jumped on the bandwagon and bought an Instant Pot®. Yes, I had to find out for myself what the craze was all about, so I actually bought in. And Instant Pot® is a programmable pressure cooker that is supposed to speed up cooking considerably. This week, I want to share what I’ve done with my Instant Pot® and how I’ve made it work for my family.

What’s the best part about an Instant Pot®?

First and foremost, what I absolutely love to make in my Instant Pot® is hard-boiled eggs. You may be asking, aren’t eggs bad for you? Despite their occasional negative portrayal, eggs are a fantastic protein source, as long as you aren’t going overboard with the number you eat.

I typically hard-boil about eight to 12 eggs a week for our family of five. The Instant Pot® makes it super-duper easy to do so. Here are the instructions:

Megan’s Hard-boiled Eggs

  1. Put one cup of water and however many eggs you want into the pot.
  2. Program five minutes of pressure, followed by five minutes natural release, followed by 5 minutes cold water bath.

I don’t shell them right away, but put them in a bowl in the fridge to stay fresher for longer. We shell them as we eat them.  

What else can you use the Instant Pot® for?

I also have made a whole chicken with my Instant Pot®, although this is not something new to me. I usually buy whole chickens when they are on sale and freeze them. Typically, I’ll thaw the chicken and put it in the crockpot with all the seasonings I want—by the evening, we’ve got chicken. I’ll shred the leftover chicken and freeze into patches so we can use it for subsequent meals, such as chicken spaghetti, chicken tacos, white chicken chili and BBQ chicken.

How does the Instant Pot come into play? One time, I forgot to thaw the chicken the night before. I placed the whole frozen chicken in the Instant Pot® with the seasonings and a little water. In no time, the chicken was cooked. This is a definite plus of having the Instant Pot® around.

What are some of the lesser-known features of the Instant Pot®?

My last favorite I’m going to talk about today is burrito bowls. When making this recipe, I use more than just the pressure cook feature. You can make the whole burrito bowl meal in the Instant Pot® and not dirty another dish, thanks to the fabulous sauté feature.

Megan’s Burrito Bowl for the Instant Pot®

  1. Put oil, peppers, onion and garlic into the pot.
  2. Use the saute feature to cook, and then add beans, salsa, chicken, rice and low-sodium chicken stock.
  3. Close the lid and pressure cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Quick release and ladle out. Add some fresh cilantro, cheese and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and serve.

This is always a fun, full meal for my family, and it leaves behind great leftovers.

Instant Pot®: Yay or nay?

There are some great features for the Instant Pot® outside of pressure cooking. It has a learning curve, and it’s a little difficult to use and get used to. Sometimes when recipes say “10 minutes,” it’s actually longer because it takes time for the pressure to build. And, I will be honest, it takes up a lot of space if you don’t have much in your kitchen. All that being said, the Instant Pot® can be right for a lot of people and would be a good addition in your kitchen. Happy Instant Potting!!

Instant Pot image from https://instantpot.com/

 

Drinking for your Health (Spoiler: It’s Water)

Have you made a New Year’s resolution to drink more water? A healthy level of water in your body helps keep your temperature normal, lubricates and cushions your joints, protects your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues and gets rid of wastes. While most people know that the “recommended” amount of water per day is 8-10 cups, that is actually an arbitrary number not based on any science. As long as you are drinking water when you’re thirsty and with meals, you are drinking a healthy amount of water. However, if you think you’re not getting enough water each day, it’s a good idea to start getting into some healthy water-drinking habits.

While most people know that the “recommended” amount of water per day is 8-10 cups, that is actually an arbitrary number not based on any science.

Here are some tips from the CDC for drinking more water:

  • Carry a water bottle for easy access when you are at work or running errands.
  • Freeze some freezer safe water bottles. Take one with you for ice-cold water all day long.
  • Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Choose water when eating out.
  • Add a wedge of lime or lemon to your water. This can help improve the taste and help you drink more water than you usually do.

If you’re one of those people who has committed to drinking more water this year but maybe doesn’t like the taste, try one of these water infusion recipes in the video below!

 

This New Year, Try a “Non-resolution”

It’s January, so that means maybe you are thinking about a new year with a clean slate. And to help make this clean slate, a New Year’s resolution. Just like I love to celebrate “Christmas in July” (all baking included!), I love to make New Year’s “non-resolutions.” Think about it: How many times have you set a resolution, only for it to last a week or two—a month at best? Plus, most resolutions don’t have anything to do with you, your willpower (I don’t believe in willpower) or capabilities. Instead, resolutions seem to focus on an unrealistic action, such as “I am going to lose 50 pounds this year.”

This New Year, make a “non-resolution.” Think about it: How many times have you set a resolution, only for it to last a week or two—a month at best?

Step 1: Come up with the defining word or phrase for your year.

I encourage you to come up with a 2018 goal for yourself—in a word or phrase—and break it into a 12-month SMART goal(s). This word or phrase should be geared to some form of your health and well-being. I find when you focus on one area, other areas seem to fall into line.

What does SMART stand for?

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Achievable 
R = Realistic
T = Time specific

Why break your word or saying into 12 months? Well, it customarily takes 21 days to make a behavior change, so you start small and build on these month-long habit formations. Then your 2018 goal should be much more realistic and achievable.

Step 2: Translate your word or phrase into action.

Based upon your word or phrase, write down as many healthy actions you can think of to help reach this goal. Keep in mind things you can actually DO and not the end results. The SMART acronym can then help you to break these DOs down to make more realistic and achievable outcomes. Don’t be afraid to break your monthly DO into weekly DOs. For example, a goal for the month could be to eat more vegetables. The monthly SMART goal would be to eat a minimum of 30 servings of vegetables. And broken down even more, a week goal could be: “I will eat a non-starchy vegetable every day at dinner.”

Step 3: Evaluate your goal each month.

Once the week or month is over, look back at your goal and see how well it did or did not work. Did you achieve this goal? And since you set a weekly or monthly SMART goal then you can see how well or well not the specific goal worked for you. Here’s the key, if you struggled at achieving or didn’t achieve your first month’s goal, that’s ok. Troubleshoot with it and either work on it again the next month or put off for another month later in the year.

Step 4: Start at a time that’s right for you.

So when should you start? You want to make sure you have a fresh mind and are more rejuvenated than you may be on January 1st. So if you don’t sit down to work on these until the middle of January, so be it. But make sure you have plenty of tools in your toolbox to help you complete this new thought process.

What does a “non-resolution” really look like?

Here’s my personal goal for 2018, along with a few of my monthly SMART goals with the tools I have in my toolbox to accomplish it.

My word for 2018 is PEACE.

It feels like I have had disorder and mayhem in my life for about the last 6 months. I have found this is starting to affect aspects of my health, so I want to focus on trying to be more peaceful this year. This may not be what you expected, but I’m trying to show you how this can be outside-of-the box thinking on becoming healthier.

Some of the areas I am focusing on to have more PEACE are:

  • Meal planning
  • Reducing stress
  • Rest
  • Exercise

I’m kicking the New Year off with my first SMART goal to be about MEAL PLANNING. The first week of January, I will plan three dinners for the days of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (the days I work). These, of course, will be planned around the plate method (one starch, one protein, unlimited non-starchy vegetables). The second week goal is to plan four dinners, Monday through Thursday. The third week goal is to plan five dinners, Monday through Friday. Finally, the last week goal is to plan again for 5 weeks. There’s flexibility in this: If I find moving from three to four meals a week is too much, then I’ll go back to the three meals a week and establish this goal. There is flexibility with the goals, but the ultimate achievement is to set specific and realistic parts of your goal.

For February, my SMART goal will be about REST. Believe it or not, I’m setting a bedtime goal. There have been too many nights where I’ve stayed up until midnight or later because I’m doing dishes, doing laundry or cleaning after the kids are bed. So for the month of February, my goal is to go to bed at 10:30 p.m. four nights out of each week. This would allow for a minimum of seven-ish hours of sleep for myself, as my alarm goes off at 6 a.m.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas to help you get more focused on the simplicity of achieving a healthier you in 2018. What about you? Share your non-resolutions below—I’d love to hear what your personal word or saying is for 2018!

Apple Cookies

“Christmas” and “cookies” are words that should always be together, right? But sometimes with all the cookies we make and receive around the holidays, we want something a little healthier to offset icing and sprinkles! Try out these apple “cookies” for something nutritiously sweet!

Apple Cookies
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Ingredients
  1. 1 apple
  2. 1/4 cup peanut butter
  3. 1/4 cup pecans, chopped
  4. 1/4 cup chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Using an apple corer, remove the core of the apple.
  2. Slice the apple into thin rings.
  3. Spread peanut butter over one side of the apple slice.
  4. Sprinkle pecans and chocolate chips on the peanut butter.
Notes
  1. One apple will make about eight “cookies.”
  2. www.rachelschultz.com
Something to Chew http://somethingtochew.com/

Baby, It’s Cold Outside—Tips for Eating Right during the Winter Months

During the cold and dreary winter months, food can almost feel a bit lacking as we crave the summer’s bountiful abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. But lucky for all of us, there are plenty of lesser-appreciated foods, such as root vegetables, beans, frozen fruits and vegetables—even the canned variety.

I totally get it, as the temperature outside (and in my office) continues to drop, it’s tempting to curl up with your favorite comfort food. But keeping our bodies well nourished is crucial to not only prevent weight gain but also to keep our immune systems fighting against all those pesky germs.

Meal Plan

The key to remember is: “If it’s not there, you can’t eat it.” So you’ve got to make sure these better-for-you foods that I mentioned earlier are readily available, whether that be in the house, at work or—believe it or not—in the car. How do we make this happen? Well, for starters, grocery shopping.

Maybe you’re like me and are not a fan of grocery shopping. In the winter, especially, it can be a dangerous expedition with all those bags and grocery cart! Plus, the coats, coats, coats, coats—(I’ve got 3 kids, so I feel like coats take up the whole grocery cart!)

To try and make this expedition or triathlon as painless and accident free as possible, I strive to plan our meals for the entire week. I include leftovers with this meal planning too. I list all the ingredients needed and see if I have what we need already in the cabinets or fridge. Yes, its tedious and one I do after the kids go to bed, but saves trips to the grocery store. Plus, I try to find recipes with similar ingredients for the week. For example, if you have carrots for soup, think about other ways you can have the carrots, such as roasted for a side, shredded in a salad or cooked in the slow cooker with a roast.

Meal planning is important because it saves you time and money. How many times have you made a trip in the in the snow, only to get home and realize you forgot an ingredient (or more!) meaning you have to either go back to the store, figure out something completely different—or giving up and running through the drive-thru for dinner. Planning ahead will save you the hassle!

Maybe this could be the time to try out the drive up or delivery services offered by many local grocery stores. You could also try some of the meal delivery services, but I encourage to be cautious when selecting one (and this is a whole blog most in itself).

Stock the Pantry

While it may be more expensive in the short-term, the more you have pre-stocked in your pantry/cabinets, the more things you have to get creative with later. I like to have canned beans, different kinds of rice (brown, jasmine, basmati, wild), quinoa, oatmeal and dry roasted/unsalted nuts.

Look at Sale Items

Keep an open mind to clearance grocery items. You may be surprised to find that a random item could spark an idea for a meal or snack. Out-of-season fruits and vegetables can be expensive, so watch for sales, but don’t be afraid to substitute in-season fruits or vegetables in your recipe.

Don’t Forget about Snacks

I encourage you to stock up on snacks and stash them in lots of places, especially in the car. Some examples are: trail mix, protein bars (that have at least 20 grams protein), whole wheat crackers, squeezable unsweet applesauce, unsalted/dry roasted nuts, roasted chickpeas, hardboiled eggs, string cheese, snack size bags of popcorn, hand fruits and vegetables (grapes, apples, blueberries, baby carrots) just to name a few.

So while you curl up next to the fire this winter, be thinking about how you can plan ahead, try something new and have food available—and don’t forget to eat every few hours.

 

Enjoy Halloween Treats—Avoid Sugary Tricks

From vampire bats to Kit Kats®, Halloween is a long-standing tradition celebrated with tricks and treats. In fact, it’s one of my favorite holidays. I have always found humor in dressing up in non-traditional Halloween costumes, even at an early age. Luckily, I have great friends and family that are willing to partake in my couple/group Halloween costume extravaganzas. 

 Routine consumption of “sugary tricks” can lead to high blood sugars, hypertension, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, gut problems—and the list goes on and on.

There is no “healthy” candy

As a dietitian, the most common question I get this time of year is, “What is the best/healthiest candy to eat”? Unfortunately, there isn’t an answer. But don’t worry! This is not going to be your typical “don’t eat candy” Halloween post.  In my eyes, it’s perfectly fine to eat your heart out in candy for a night (or two). Why? Because we are a product of what we routinely do, not what we occasionally do. This applies to all aspects of life, but especially to our health.  

Everything in Moderation

What I mean by this concept is that it is perfectly fine to enjoy some less-nutritious foods, such as pizza, donuts and candy, occasionally. The problem is that most people enjoy these foods far too often than what their metabolisms are capable of processing. I am more concerned with the “daily candy” our youth and adults consume. Routine consumption of these foods can lead to high blood sugars, hypertension, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, gut problems—and the list goes on and on.

Breakfast Candy

Cereals, Pop-Tarts® and pastries are some of the best ways to start off your day…. If you want a sugar and insulin surge. These habits lead to fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin control throughout the day, disrupt concentration and can suck the energy right out of you. Lower sugar options include eggs, lean breakfast meats, nuts, peanut butter, cottage cheese and small servings of fruit.

Liquid Candy

Juice, soda, sweet tea and sports drinks are simply sugar in a liquid form. Perceived benefits of caffeine, vitamins and electrolytes are far outweighed by the consequences of the rapid absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Not only does this sugar tidal wave spike insulin levels, it also increases preferences towards high-sugar foods, so the cycle unfortunately continues.

Fake Candy

Often, people gravitate towards items that are “sugar-free,” such as diet soda or sugar-free snacks, with the assumption that these products are healthier. I firmly stand my ground that low-calorie, chemical versions of sugar are no healthier for you than real and processed sugars. They may have a reduced nutrient density, but research shows that sugar substitutes greatly damage our gut lining. This can lead to leaky gut syndrome, propelling a host of other disease conditions.

Fruit Candy

Fruit roll-ups, fruit snacks and fruit-fillings are not fruit. They are pastes and mixtures created to taste like fruit. While these foods may appear to be healthier choices than other snack foods, nutritionally, they are no different than Skittles®.

Dairy Candy

Milk and yogurt contain both natural and added sugars. Calcium intake is important but not at the price of 20 grams of sugar, which is what you may find in a standard serving of yogurt (even Greek) and especially flavored milk varieties. Opt for low-sugar calcium sources such as unsweetened milk substitutes, broccoli, spinach, cheese, cottage cheese or whey/casein-based protein powders.