2012 Foodie Highlights, 5 Family Health Resolutions for 2013, and a Veggie-Filled Recipe for Spinach Mac & Cheese

2012 was a whirlwind year filled with fun foodie adventures, Janice’s mega kitchen makeover, a Best Culinary Podcast nomination from IACP, and the exciting news that we won a recipe app contest from the app development company, Mobile Skillet. We’re entering 2013 with a big bang for sure! On this week’s Cooking with the Moms radio podcast, we share highlights from 2012, dish about food trend predictions, divulge our personal health resolutions (hint: Liz vows to get rid of her wrinkles!), and serve up a super healthy and family-friendly recipe for Spinach Mac & Cheese. We hope you’ll tune in.

In 2012, we forged a partnership with health and well-being company, HumanaVitality and created 15 makeover recipes for their Tumblr page. HumanaVitality shares our philosophy that eating right and living a healthy lifestyle is doable for everyone … especially when nutritious recipes like Spinach Mac & Cheese are at your fingertips!

Spinach Mac & Cheese

Makes 8 Servings

We love this recipe because it’s nutritious, moderate in fat and sodium thanks to ingredients like reduced-fat cheese, 1% milk, and a roux made with evoo versus butter, and kids love it. Talk about a great way to get more veggies on the family table.To streamline this recipe a bit, skip the Parmesan cheese and the baking dish and serve the gooey pasta straight from the pot.

  • One 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • One 13.25 ounce box whole wheat elbow pasta
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups 1% low-fat milk
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • One 8-ounce package shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Drain the spinach in a colander. Press with the back of a large spoon to remove excess moisture. Set aside.

2. Cook the pasta until almost tender. Drain and set aside.

3.  While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until golden and fragrant, about 1 minute.

4. Whisk the flour, pepper, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil into the onion mixture and cook for 1 minute. Whisk the milk, broth, soy sauce, and mustard slowly into the flour mixture. Raise the heat and bring to a low boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer and stir gently until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes.

5. Remove from the heat and stir in the Cheddar cheese and spinach until well combined. Add the cooked pasta and stir to combine. Spread the mixture evenly in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or dish. Top with the Parmesan cheese and bake until bubbly and the top turns golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Nutrition Information per Serving:  370 calories, 12g fat (4.5g saturated), 550mg sodium, 48g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 21g protein, 100% vitamin A, 40% calcium, 15% iron

Print Recipe

Liz stopped by Boston’s NECN TV station for a New Year’s segment on family resolutions. You can watch the segment on the NECN site or read on for Liz’s five resolution tips!

1. Start the Day with a Hearty, Nutritious Breakfast
Kids who eat breakfast have better school attendance and test scores compared to students who skip their morning meal. Other breakfast benefits include weight control. People who skip breakfast are twice as likely to be overweight compared to breakfast eaters. Surprisingly, skippers end up eating 100 more calories a day. Skipping breakfast also makes it tough to make up for nutrient shortfalls throughout the day. Breakfast eaters consume more of several key nutrients including calcium, potassium, fiber, and folic acid. Morning meal ideas include our Ham & Cheesy Breakfast Sandwich and our Peanut Butter Pancakes.

2. Fill Half Your Plate with Fruits & Vegetables
People who eat fruits and veggies every day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers. In the New Year, follow the advice of MyPlate and get in the habit of filling half your plate with fruits and veggies. Shake things up to avoid fruit and vegetable boredom! Try cara cara oranges, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, Asian pears, dinosaur kale, and add canned pumpkin to pancake and muffin batters. Healthy veggie ideas for families include our T-Rex Kale Chips and our Better-for-You Brussels Sprouts Gratin.

3. Eat Together as a Family
Turn off the TV and the cell phones and eat meals together. Research shows that when kids eat together with their families, they end up eating a more nutritious diet.  A new study from the UK found that children whose families always ate meals together consumed 4.4 ounces (1.5 portions) more fruits and vegetables a day compared with children whose families never ate together.

4. Be a Meal Planner
Get organized and plan ahead. Sit down once a week and plot out your meals … and get the kids to help too. By planning ahead, you’re less likely to order take-out and more likely to create healthy, home-cooked meals. To help you get organized, check out our free, downloadable 7 Day Meal Planner and our cookbook, No Whine with Dinner.

5. Switch from Full-fat Dairy to Low Fat
This simple swap can dramatically cut calories and artery-clogging saturated fat from the diet. A simple switch, like going from a glass of whole milk to a glass of skim milk takes saturated fat from 5 grams down to zero. One of our favorite recipes that calls for low-fat dairy is right here in this blog post: Spinach Mac & Cheese!

Have a happy and healthy New Year, and feel free to share YOUR resolutions with us. We always love hearing from you.

Gadget Gift Ideas from the Recipe Redux, An Italian Tomato Press, AND a Recipe for Bubbe’s Applesauce

My mom makes the best brisket in the world. She makes the best latkes. AND, she makes the best applesauce. My boys call my mom’s applesauce, Bubbe Sauce. (Bubbe is a term of endearment for a Jewish grandmother.) Her secret to applesauce success, other than the intuitive cooking that allows her to add a dash of this and a pinch of that with stunning success, is the smooth, lump-free texture. My dad, you see, won’t eat food if it’s lumpy. Yes, my mom is not just a great cook … she’s a saint.

To get the perfect consistency for her applesauce, my mom doesn’t mash nor does she puree. Instead, she runs the cooked apples — peel, seeds, and all — through an Italian Tomato Press that she bought at Williams-Sonoma ($39.95). I too am now the proud new owner of said device.


For this month’s Recipe Redux, nutrition bloggers from across the web are sharing their favorite kitchen gadgets … and recipes to go with them. For the challenge, I chose the Italian Tomato Press, which I’m now calling my Handy-Dandy Applesauce Maker, and a recipe for Bubbie’s Applesauce. I hope the gadget roundup offers inspiration as you shop for last-minute holiday gifts or look to stock your kitchen with tools that bring better health and more nutrient-rich cooking to your family’s table in 2013.

The tomato press/applesauce maker is easy to operate (though I must confess that figuring out how to pull it apart in order to clean it was a bit confusing). Feed it cooked apples, turn the crank, and voila, applesauce. The skin comes out from one part of the machine and the smooth applesauce from another. When my 14-year-old son, Simon, got home from school and saw what I was doing, he stepped right in, refused to let me help, and cranked away. Whatever it takes …

Bubbe’s Applesauce

Makes 8 Servings

Applesauce is versatile. I used three pounds of organic gala apples, and I tossed in some dried cranberries and a cup of strawberries. The next time I make Bubbe’s Applesauce, I pan to use apples, a pear, and maybe even some dried apricots. As for sweetening the sauce, it may  not need anything, but you could certainly use brown sugar, honey, or agave. Homemade applesauce is nutritious — I’m loving the 5 grams of fiber — and since my boys adore it, it’s an easy way to get more fruit into their diets.

  • 3 pounds gala apples, quartered, stems removed (not peeled or even seeded)
  • 1 cup strawberries, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Brown sugar, optional (add a tablespoon or two if you’re using tart ingredients like fresh cranberries or Granny Smith apples, or add at the end to taste)

1. Place the apples, strawberries, water, cranberries, lemon juice, and cinnamon in a medium Dutch oven or saucepan and stir to combine. Place over medium-high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the apples are very tender, about 45 minutes. (If you want to speed up the cooking time, cut the apples into smaller pieces.) Let cool about 10 minutes.

2. Working in batches, press the cooked fruit mixture through the tomato press. Add the juices too. Run the peel through the press two or three times to press out as much of the fruit as possible. Sweeten with brown sugar to taste.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1/2 cup): 110 calories, 0g fat (0g saturated), 0mg sodium, 29g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 0g protein, 35% vitamin C

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Here’s a picture of my mom and dad. I took it last year as they celebrated the 50th birthday of their trusty GE refrigerator. Too cute ….

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012 … and Our Recipe for Monster Cookie Makeover

There’s nothing better than a good ol’ fashioned cookie swap, and this year, we took part in the granddaddy of ’em all. Thanks to two dedicated bloggers, Love & and Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen, the second annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap welcomed well over 500 food bloggers from around the world. As part of the swap, we were given the names of three fellow food bloggers, Hannah from Cats and Commas, Ali from Cheater Bites, and Jackie from Just Add Milk, and then we sent each of them a dozen of our homemade Monster Cookies. In return, we received three dozen cookies from three other food bloggers: Kelley from The Culinary Enthusiast, Janet from A Cook at Heart, and Kristin from Nanna’s Cookbook.  How fun is that?!

To participate, we made a $4.00 donation to Cookies for Kid’s Cancer, a non-profit organization that raises money for pediatric cancer research. To thank us (which they really didn’t have to do), OXO sent us a Be a Good Cookie spatula.

For our makeover, we swapped the usual butter for heart-healthy canola oil, tossed in dried cranberries, used chocolate-covered sunflower seeds (they look like little ornaments and they’re naturally colored), cracked open three Eggland’s Best eggs (gotta love the extra omega-3, vitamin D, and lutein), and added just one cup of brown sugar for all 40 cookies. We used lots of oats too, which are downright nutritious!

Monster Cookie Makeover

Makes 3 Dozen Cookies

Here at Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen, we’re all about taking popular recipes and giving them a healthy and delicious makeover. We recently asked our Facebook fans which cookie they’d like us to make over and Monster cookies came up several times. This recipe was inspired by a Monster Cookie recipe we found on The Pioneer Woman and another one from Paula Deen. As you can only imagine, the original recipes had LOTS of butter! We hope you love our butter-free, better-for-you-but-just-as-luscious makeover. Happy holidays!

  • 4 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 3/4 cup chocolate sunflower seed drops (we found them at Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup peanut butter

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil or coat two large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

2. Whisk together the oats, sunflower seed drops, cranberries, chocolate chips, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until well combined.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, oil, and vanilla until well combined. Whisk in the peanut butter until the mixture is smooth. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients, and stir until just moistened.

4. Working in batches, scoop the batter using a 2-tablespoon cookie scooper and place on the prepared baking sheets, flattening slightly with the heel of your hand to create circles, about 2½ inches in diameter. Leave about 1 inch between each cookie.

5. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, about 10 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown. Cool slightly on the baking sheet before transferring the cookies to a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining dough.

For the “BEFORE” nutrient analysis, we used The Pioneer Woman’s Monster Cookie recipe with 2 sticks of butter:

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 cookie): 200 calories, 9g fat (5g saturated), 160mg sodium, 27g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 2g protein

Here is the nutrient analysis for our “AFTER” creation with 1/4 canola oil!:

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 cookie): 130 calories, 7g fat (1.5g saturated), 95mg sodium, 14g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 4g protein

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The cookies were shipped to Liz’s house (no worries, she shared with Janice), and you can’t imagine the excitement Liz felt when the packages arrived. (Bottom left of the montage to bottom right) Amaretti Cookies from Nanna’s Cookbook, Double Chocolate Biscotti from The Culinary Enthusiast (great for dunking in hot tea), and Pebbly Beach Fruit Squares from A Cook at Heart.

Many thanks to Love & Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen for organizing The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap. Count us in for next year! As for this year’s recipes, Here’s a link to Recipe Roundup Part 1.

Almond-Apricot Snowballs: A Classic Holiday Cookie Gets a Healthy Makeover

This weekend, it finally felt like winter here in the Boston area. The temperature dipped below freezing, the snow was falling, and each of our towns — Lexington and Melrose — held holiday celebrations. The spirit of the holidays is in the air (brrrr) and the holiday desserts are everywhere! To help you navigate all those gooey, decadent December treats without going overboard on the fat and calories, our friends over at CanolaInfo have added a new twist on holiday classics with their Skinny Mini Holiday Desserts collection. We broke out our aprons this week and made these Almond-Apricot Snowballs just for you.

Almond-Apricot Snowballs via www.MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen Perfect for a cookie swap and made without any butter!

Instead of making these fluffy cookies with gobs of butter, margarine or shortening (gasp), heart-healthy canola oil becomes the go-to source of fat.

By adding almonds and dried apricots and a mix of vanilla and almond extracts, the flavor of the holidays shines through with each little bite.

This is what the snowballs look like before they’re covered in powdered sugar. If you want to cut back on the sugar and calories even more, you could stop at this stage in the recipe. (We sneaked a nibble before the powdered sugar went on, and the cookies were still incredibly delicious.)

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Consider making a batch of these better-for-you snowballs for your next holiday cookie swap or party.

Almond-Apricot Snowballs

Makes 36 Cookies

We can’t take the credit for this Almond-Apricot Snowballs recipe. It comes compliments of CanolaInfo. They know how to swap out solid fats like butter and replace them with oil, and on their website, they even have a tip sheet for making the switch.

  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour 560 mL
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 250 mL
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch 45 mL
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 mL
  • 3/4 cup canola oil 175 mL
  • 2 tablespoons water 30 mL
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract 5 mL
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 5 mL
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, chopped 125 mL
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots 125 mL
  • 1¾ cups confectioners’ sugar, for rolling 425 mL

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

2. In medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, cornstarch and salt until completely combined. Add canola oil and beat until well combined Add water, almond and vanilla extract. Mix. Stir in almonds and dried apricots.

3. Scoop batter with small ice cream scooper, melon baller or spoon, making all same size. Place them on un-greased baking sheet about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart.

4. Bake cookies about 12 to 15 minutes or until just set. Cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes and then transfer to wire rack until just warm.

5. Pour confectioners’ sugar into bowl. While cookies are still warm, but not hot, roll in confectioners’ sugar. It will adhere slightly to cookies, making them look like snowballs. Return cookies to wire rack and when totally cooled, roll in confectioners’ sugar again. Store in air-tight container for up to five days. Tip: Roll the cookies in the second coating of confectioner’s sugar right before serving.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 snowball): 120 calories, 5g fat (0g saturated), 20mg sodium, 20g carbohydrate, 13g sugar, 0g fiber, 1g protein

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For more holiday-inspired recipes, head on over to our Recipe Index.

Recipe Redux “Vintage Side Dish” Challenge: Green Bean & Wild Mushroom Casserole … Plus, How We Managed to Test This Recipe Without a Working Oven

It’s Recipe Redux time again, and for this month’s Vintage Side Dish challenge, we updated a time-honored holiday classic: Green Bean Casserole. Traditionally made with frozen green beans, a can of cream of mushroom soup, and topped with French’s French Fried Onions, we felt a made-from-scratch makeover was in order. Deciding not to be too Scrooge or extreme with our recipe renovation, we kept the creamy base with a saucy mix of mushrooms, shallots, a roux of evoo and flour, and low-fat milk, and we played around with two different topping options. And somehow we managed to do it all without a working oven between us. Read on for a tale of two ovens and the recipe.

Green Bean Casserole via MealMakeoverMoms.com/kitchen

We couldn’t decide which topping to go with so on one side, we added Trader Joe’s Fried Onion Pieces (not the healthiest topping in the world but an element some folks love too much to give up) and on the other, we used a mix of crushed Corn Flakes, chopped pistachios, and grated Parmesan.

Green Bean & Wild Mushroom Casserole

Makes 6 to 8 Servings

Vegetable side dishes are our favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. But with cans of creamy soups, gobs of butter, and handfuls of full-fat cheese, classic veggie recipes can lose their healthy halo! For our recipe redux, we lightened things up and added big-time umami with the button and shiitake mushrooms.

  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut in half
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 8 ounces button mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 3 ounces shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups 1% low-fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

Topping / Choice 1:

  • 1 cup fried onion pieces (we used Trader Joe’s brand)

Topping / Choice 2:

  • 1 cup corn flake cereal, coarsely crushed
  • 1/4 cup toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the green beans and blanch for 5 minutes. The water will come back up to a boil after about 2 minutes, but your total blanch time should be from the time the beans hit the water until the 5-minute kitchen timer rings. Drain the beans in a colander and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a Dutch oven or medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, shallot, salt, pepper, and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are tender and have given off most of their liquid, about 7 minutes.

3. Stir the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the flour into the mushroom mixture and cook for 1 minute. Whisk the milk and soy sauce slowly into the flour mixture. Raise the heat and bring to a low boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer and stir gently until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes.

4. Stir the beans into the sauce until combined. Transfer to a casserole dish and top evenly with either the onion pieces or with a mixture of the corn flake cereal, pistachios, and Parmesan cheese.  Bake until the topping turns golden and the sauce is bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Nutrition Information per Serving (with onion topping): 170 calories,10 g fat (3g saturated), 230mg sodium, 16g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 5g protein, 15% vitamin A, 15% vitamin C, 15% calcium
Nutrition Information per Serving (with corn flake topping): 160 calories, 9g fat (1.5g saturated), 230mg sodium, 17g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 6g protein, 15% vitamin A, 15% vitamin C, 15% calcium, 15% iron

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Our updated green bean casserole with a savory mushroom sauce and some retro Thanksgiving-themed tableware and decorations purchased by Liz at a local tag sale.

So are you ready for the tale of our two ovens? For starters, Janice has no oven. In fact, she has no kitchen. That’s because she’s in the middle of a giant kitchen renovation. For the past few months, we’ve been testing recipes at Liz’s house. As for Liz’s Jenn-Air oven, the other night as she was testing a new recipe for corn flake coated, oven-roasted chicken thighs, her oven became possessed, switched itself onto broil, and proceeded to burn the chicken to smithereens. Thankfully, Liz heard the oven alarm go off before the chicken caught on fire, but the oven was kaput. Needless to say, it’s tough to test recipes when you have no oven.

Here is a photo to prove that Liz is NOT making up this story …

Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving everyone.

Recipe Redux October Cooking Challenge: Orange Cauliflower Tex-Mex Casserole

Every month (well, almost every month), we participate in the Recipe Redux dietitian blogger cooking challenge. This month’s assignment: A recipe featuring orange food. We have two fabulous nutrition students from Boston University who are interning with us for the semester, so we asked them to create an orange recipe and write a guest post.

Sophie and Annette were like kids in a  candy store when we dropped them off for a scouting mission at Wilson Farm in Lexington, MA. They grabbed a bunch of orange foods including Rugosa Squash (we blogged about this heirloom variety last week) and these gorgeous heads of orange cauliflower.

Read on for the guest post and the recipe! (And while you’re at it, be sure to check out Annette’s blog, Food Science Nerd!)

Hi Everyone. We’re Sophie and Annette, and we’re seniors at Boston University. Sophie is originally from England and Annette grew up in Durham, NC. Coming out to Liz’s house in Lexington for the past few weeks has been a nice break from our fast-paced, always-studying lives in Boston. And since both of us love to cook, we’ve enjoyed our time in the temporary MMM Kitchen (The Moms usually cook at Janice’s house but her kitchen is getting a makeover)! We had a blast cooking this casserole for the Recipe Redux, and we can’t’ wait to read all of the other posts.

Some of our favorite finds at the farm (from top left) were the Cinderella pumpkins (shout-out to Annette’s Disney obsession), the golden beets, sugar pumpkins, and small “fancy” gourds, but we decided the best option for this challenge was the orange cauliflower.

Sophie had a flashback to a childhood favorite called Cauliflower Cheese. Her mum (that’s what they call “moms” in the UK) made this recipe all the time using a lot of butter and Cheddar cheese, so we decided to use it as the starting point for our recipe redux.

The original Cauliflower Cheese recipe was handed down to Sophie’s mum from her grandma. Now, we’re turing it into a lighter but equally flavorful Meal-Makeover-Mom-approved version. To do that, we replaced the butter with olive oil to increase the amount of heart-healthy fats and replaced the whole-fat cheese with reduced fat.  We also reduced the amounts of both ingredients to lower the overall calories and fat.  We spiced up the recipe with green onion, cumin, and chili powder and added extra crunch with a sprinkle of Panko bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.

This is what it looks like, all bubbly and crunchy straight out of the oven!

Orange Cauliflower Tex-Mex Casserole

Makes 6 to 8 Servings (7 cup yield)

Who could turn down cauliflower with a recipe like this one? It’s so comforting! By the way, if you can’t find orange cauliflower, use the regular white. It’s still packed with great nutrition.

  • 1 large head of orange cauliflower cut into 1-inch, bite-size florets (about 9 cups)
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 green onions thinly sliced, white and light green parts
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups 1% low-fat milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 4 ounces shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (1 cup)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour 1/2-inch of water into the bottom of a medium-size saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Place the cauliflower in a steamer basket and lower into the pot. Reduce the heat to a low boil, replace the lid, and steam the cauliflower until crisp tender, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a 7 x 11-inch baking dish and set aside.

2. Carefully empty the water from the saucepan and wipe away excess moisture with a paper towel. Place the oil in the saucepan, and heat over medium heat. Add the green onions and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and whisk constantly until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Whisk the milk, cumin, and chili powder slowly into the flour mixture. Raise the heat and bring to a low boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer and stir gently until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes.

4. Remove from the heat and stir in the Cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce evenly over the cauliflower. Stir together the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese in a bowl and sprinkle evenly over the top. Place in the oven and bake until the cheese bubbles, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Reposition rack in upper third of oven and preheat broiler. Place casserole back in oven and broil until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes.

Nutrition Information per Serving (about 1 cup):  170 calories, 8g fat (3g saturated), 230mg sodium, 15g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 11g protein, 190% vitamin A, 110% vitamin C, 25% calcium

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Don’t be fooled by how indulgent this dish tastes! One cup of raw cauliflower has only 25 calories, and orange cauliflower has the added benefit of higher amounts of carotenoids, the antioxidants that give this veggie its orange color.  One 1-cup serving of this casserole provides 25 percent calcium, thanks to the low-fat milk and Cheddar cheese, a dash of phytochemicals from the cumin, and a whole serving of veggies.

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo … and a Healthy Makeover Version of her Favorite Sketti Dinner

There’s been a lot of hype lately over the hit TLC show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. This popular reality show stars Alana (AKA Honey Boo Boo), a spirited seven-year old beauty pageant contestant and her family, Mama June, Sugar Bear (her dad), and her three siblings.

We’re not fans of the show per se, but we’ve watched some clips, and today, we even used the Honey Boo Boo Nickname Generator to find out our Honey Boo Boo “names.” In case you’re wondering, you can now refer to Liz as Lavender Wonderful and Janice as Jayla Bootyboo. But all kidding aside, we WORRY about this family. Their diet, from what we’ve seen, is filled with processed foods — salty, starchy snacks and sugary beverages — and sorely lacks fresh fruits and vegetables. As for the family’s favorite meal, it’s a dish called Sketti, a mixture of cooked spaghetti, ketchup, and butter or margarine.


If you read this blog, you know we’re not judgmental. It’s always been our goal to help families eat a healtheir diet, and you’ve probably heard us say that while it’s impossible to be perfect, it’s absolutely possible to be better. For example, if your family eats a B-minus diet, bring it to a B-plus or even better. By doing so, you’ll make a positive impact on the short and long term health of everyone at your table. So long story short, when we saw this video, we decided to do what we love best: create a healthier, more nutritious, and equally delicious version of Sketti.

Mama June, if you’re out there, we hope you’ll give this recipe a try 🙂 We are confident that through good nutrition, Honey Boo Boo will be a stronger, happier, and healthier child … and a better pageant competitor.

By using everyday, inexpensive ingredients (i.e. nothing weird or hard to find) like whole wheat blend pasta, pre-shredded carrots, tomato sauce versus ketchup, and a healthier “butter” spread, we cut fat and calories dramatically while boosting fiber and vitamin A (read on for our before/after analysis).

Saucy Sketti with Carrots

Makes 6 Servings

All children need great quality calories — lean protein, whole grains, fruits, veggies — to sustain them throughout the day. After all, it’s hard to hold your head high … especially when you’re wearing a tiara … without filling your belly first with sensible meals and snacks! For this spaghetti dish, we suggest serving a giant colorful salad on the side.

  • One 14.5 ounce box dried whole wheat blend spaghetti
  • One 10-ounce bag matchstick carrots
  • 1/4 cup soft buttery spread
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • One 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, optional

1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the pasta and carrots and stir a few times. Cook at a low boil until the pasta is done and the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.

2. Return the saucepan to the stove and place over medium heat. Add the tomato sauce, buttery spread, and brown sugar and stir to combine. Continue to stir until the spread melts and the ingredients are well blended. Stir the spaghetti and carrots into the tomato mixture until well combined. Serve in individual bowls, and top with Parmesan cheese as desired.

“AFTER” Nutrition Information per Serving: 380 calories, 10g fat (1g saturated), 490mg sodium, 58g carbohydrate, 7g fiber, 14g protein, 80% vitamin A, 15% vitamin C, 20% iron
“BEFORE” Nutrition Information per Serving: 520 calories, 24g fat (4.5g saturated), 510mg sodium, 65g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 11g protein, 25% vitamin A, 15% iron

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Yes, even The Meal Makeover Moms let their hair down once in a while. Here’s an action shot as we check if the spaghetti is done.

Mohonk Mountain House Adventures and a Recipe for Better Blueberry Buckle

Visiting the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York is like taking a step back in time. My family has been going there for the past six summers — though my first trip to Mohonk took place when I was just a wee lass of eight. On our most recent trip last month, we were warmly welcomed with a jar of homemade raspberry jam and a recipe for Mohonk Mountain House’s Heirloom Berry Buckle. Needless to say, I immediately noticed that their buckle called for A LOT of sugar and butter. Please don’t think I’m putting them down, but after the long weekend, I couldn’t help but try my hand at my own version of a buckle. Here’s what I came up with with the help of my oh-so- talented partner in MMM crime, Janice.

A buckle or crumble is defined as a type of cake made in a single layer with berries added to the batter. It is usually made with blueberries. The topping is similar to a streusel, which gives it a buckled or crumpled appearance. (Source: What’s Cooking America.)

Better Blueberry Buckle

Makes 8 Servings

For the batter we added some whole wheat pastry flour and ground flaxseed for more fiber and nutrients, and we gave butter the boot in favor of heart-healthy canola oil. We used an Eggland’s Best egg for extra omega-3, vitamin D, and vitamin E and kept the sugar to just half a cup. For flavor and texture, we used vanilla yogurt, lemon juice, and lemon zest. As for the topping, once again, we swapped the butter for canola, and we turned to oats for crunch.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup expeller pressed canola oil
  • 1/2 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
  • 1/4 cup 1% low-fat milk
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1¼ cups blueberries

For the Topping

  • 1/4 cup old fashioned or quick-cooking oats
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon expeller pressed canola oil

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil or coat a 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

2. Whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, flaxseed, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl.

3.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, sugar, and the canola oil until well blended. Whisk in the yogurt, milk, lemon zest, and lemon juice.

4.  Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Gently stir in the blueberries. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.

5. To make the topping, place the oats, brown sugar, flaxseed, and cinnamon in a small bowl and stir to combine. Add the oil and stir until the oat mixture is well coated. Spread the topping evenly over the batter.

6.  Bake about 35 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Cover lightly with foil about halfway through if the topping browns too quickly.) Transfer to a wire rack and cool, or serve while still warm.

Tip: If you don’t have blueberries, you can use raspberries instead (same amount).

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 slice): 280 calories, 11g fat (1g saturated, 1.3g omega-3), 200mg sodium, 40g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 5g protein

Print Recipe

There are endless fitness opportunities at Mononk. During my hike to the look-out tower, I looked down and saw my boys swimming across the lake with a group of other guests.

Simon and Josh are OBSESSED with fishing and spend most of their time at Mohonk at the “secret spot.” This year, they caught a bunch of rainbow trout, and one unlucky fish ended up on our dinner table. The chef at Mohonk was kind enough to create this gorgeous dish of rainbow trout with roasted tomatoes, bell peppers, and Kalamata olives. My dad felt bad eating the fish since it had led a happy life, but knowing that the lake is stocked, the rest of us enjoyed the meal without too much guilt.

My mom and dad have been married for 57 years and they’re still going strong!

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Orange Sunglasses! In the photo: my sister Marian, my niece Andrea, my mom, me, and my sister Amy.

Mohonk is a magical place filled with activities to suite anyone’s fitness level, food preferences, or state of mind. From strolling through the gardens and feasting outside at the Granary to reading a book on the grand front porch to yoga, it’s a place where extended families can gather to enjoy quality time together. I’m already counting the days until next summer 🙂

Recipe Redux August Challenge: Nantucket on My Mind … and a Recipe for Tilapia Tacos Your Way

Nantucket is a beautiful island off the coast of Massachusetts, and I first discovered it back in the late 80’s. Yes, yes I know; many of you were just born around that time! 🙂 Anyway, for the past few summers, Tim and I have taken our boys to Nantucket, and we’ve all fallen in love with the place. Once the whaling capital of the world, Nantucket is now a vacation destination where visitors can walk down cobblestone streets in the old town, ride bikes, sun themselves at the beach, grab a fishing rod and try their hand at catching a fish, eat great seafood (especially the fish tacos at Millie’s), go boating, and a whole lot more. For this month’s Recipe Redux challenge, we were charged with taking a favorite vacation food and making it healthier, so I decided to play around with a fish taco of my very own.

One of the cool things about Nantucket is the remote beaches. One afternoon during our week-long visit this August, we drove our four-wheel Jeep to Great Point where the boys had an opportunity to go fishing. Yours truly opted out of that activity.

Josh and Simon would fish all day if given the opportunity!

After getting skunked at the beach, we decided to rent a boat for a morning and give Great Point another try. We figured we’d have better luck offshore. By noon, the boys had hooked over a dozen bluefish. We took one home and Tim cooked it up for lunch. Fish sandwich anyone?

The testosterone kicked in when my husband gutted and filleted the fish. The boys were fascinated.

One of our favorite beaches is out in Madaket. After the beach, we love to head over to Millie’s for fish tacos. Millie’s is also a fun spot for watching the sunset.

This grilled striped bass in corn tortillas with tomato and sweet corn salad, guacamole, and lime sour cream hit the spot. Other than the sour cream, it’s pretty darn healthy.

For this month’s Recipe Redux, I decided to create my favorite Nantucket fish taco meal at home. We’re big fans of fish tacos around here; I typically cook up a pound and a half of tilapia fillets, lay out a bunch of toppers, and tell everyone to have fun creating their own.

For this taco recipe, I offered my family roasted bell peppers, caramelized red onion, fresh cilantro, and guacamole for the toppers. But you don’t have to stop there. Other topper options we’ve enjoyed include black beans, corn kernels, grilled portobello mushrooms, coleslaw, salsa, and light sour cream, and of course, fresh lime juice.

Tilapia Tacos Your Way
Makes 5 to 6 Servings

This is more of a concept than an actual recipe. It’s flexible. No real rules apply other than having a base — in this case flour tortillas — as well as fish  and lots of toppers. For me, it’s all about the veggies. Here, I chose colorful bell peppers and red onions, but you can switch up the veggies based on what’s in season: grilled or sauteed zucchini, shredded carrots and shredded lettuce, sauteed greens, etc. For us, avocados diced or turned into guacamole are a must.

  • 1½ pounds tilapia fillets (4 to 6 fillets)
  • 2 tablespoons of your favorite marinade (I used Baja Seafood Cooking & Grilling Sauce)
  • As many flour tortillas (or corn tortillas) as you want
  • 3 bell peppers, quartered, tossed with EVOO and grilled or roasted (or sliced thin and sauteed)
  • 1 red onion, cut into thin half-moon-shaped slices and caramelized in a skillet
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed and separated into sprigs.
  • Guacamole
  • Other topper options: Corn kernels, beans, salsa, coleslaw, light sour cream, lime wedges

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the tilapia on a cutting board and slice each fillet down the center where the fish connects to create 2 smaller fillets. Place in a bowl, add the marinade, and toss until evenly coated. Let sit for 30 minutes.

2. Place the fillets on a baking sheet and bake until the fish flakes easily with a fork and is cooked through, about 12 minutes.

3. To build the tacos, heat each tortilla individually on a dinner-size plate for about 30 seconds in the microwave. Place one piece of fish down the center of the tortilla and top with any or all topping ingredients. Roll up burrito style and enjoy.

The worst part about Nantucket is leaving.

Until next year …

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