Friday, May 28, 2010

A Healthier, Happier Hour

While Happy Hours and Cocktail Parties are indeed a great time, they’re usually far from healthy, making me far from happy. Not that I’m expecting a platter of fruit, water and nonfat everything, but it would be nice to have a little variety. These days, “Girls Night Out” consists of salty chips, fattening cupcakes, sugar-overdosed fruity cocktails (that taste more like cough medicine then an alcoholic beverage) and sliders, or our excuse to eat burgers “guilt free.” All of the sudden an innocent hour turns into an entire day’s worth of calories and a bloated upset stomach the next day.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I eat crappy, salty, high fat eats, I wake up the next day feeling absolutely terrible. A grumbling stomach, jeans that don’t fit, a few new pimples and baggy eyes make me anything but a happy girl. Take a deep breath and relax. This is a healthier happier guide for all of you healthy chicks out there who still like to have fun and party now and again. Hey, who doesn’t?

Host Girls' Night Out at Your Own Home: If the shindig takes place in your own home, you get to control what you serve. Choose a few healthy options that your guests can enjoy, and that you’ll eat as well. Why serve something that you wouldn’t even put in your mouth?

The other day, I had a skincare party at my house, and served up a plate of fresh veggies (red pepper, cucumber, carrots) and hummus, and another plate of reduced fat white cheddar, sharp yellow cheddar, and fresh red seedless grapes I had bought on sale! I then threw a few saltine-like crackers along the tray with cheese, and although I couldn’t eat them (boo gluten intolerance), I knew my guests would enjoy. I had a bottle of red wine in hand as well ‘cause not only is it good for your heart, but it’s such a nice accompaniment to any Girl’s Night. I was going to bring out some dark chocolate chunks later in the evening, but we never got around to it (too much chatting). Make sure to see below for more ideas to serve at your next party (or your friend’s)!

Once you plan out what you want to serve, tell your friends to bring a few apps or drinks as well. Then, if one of them ends up bringing a ginormous double chocolate, triple fat, extra sugar cake, you have a few healthier options to fall back on.

Dish Out Refreshing Cocktails: Now that it’s summer, no one wants to drink heavy and/or cream based drinks. That’s why Corona Light becomes so popular in the summer months; heavy drinks simply don’t do it for us. Make sure you offer some delicious, light drinks if you’re the one hosting the party yourself. And if it’s not at your home, bring supplies to make your drink of choice as a “housewarming gift.” A few of my favorites are a light white or blush wine like Zinfandel or Pinot mixed with plain, unflavored seltzer water. Rim the cup with a slice of strawberry for an extra kick! And just ‘cause it’s healthy (er) doesn’t mean it isn’t taste. Your friends will be begging you to be their bartender for the night in a matter of minutes once they get a taste for themselves.

Know When to Stop: If you’re feeling a buzz, then take advantage of it for a while, rather than going overboard and feeling crappy the next morning. Instead, take it slow and actually enjoy your yummy sips. After all, drinking is supposed to be a social activity anyway, right? Chat with your friends, sip slowly, and have fun. If you're feeling a little tipsy, put more ice in your drinks to water them down afterward or drink a glass of water after each drink so your still getting some hydration. If you’ve had one too many, chug a bottle of water before bed. Trust me; it may not seem that important but it works wonders for your morning hangover!

Learn to control yourself with the apps too! I know when I get a few drinks in me, all I want to do is munch on everything in site. But, think (or at least try to think) about the choices you make ahead of time. Do you really want that brownie? Are you really in the mood for another slice of pizza? If so, then go for it! Eat half or eat it slowly so you can actually enjoy it. If you’re eating because you’re bored, simply pop a piece of gum or go for the fruit instead!

Some Yummy, “Healthy Chick"-Approved Bites

• Fresh hummus served with chopped up veggies like red pepper, yellow pepper, cucumbers, tomatoes, celery and carrot sticks. Bring a bag of Stacy’s Pita Chips or make your own Pita Chip’s with my Brown Rice Pita Chip recipe for extra yummy dippers!
• Plain popcorn, sprinkled with cinnamon for a sweet kick or black pepper, Parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt for a more savory option!
• Stack toothpicks with grapes, melon and mozzarella or sharp cheddar cheese chunks for some mini fruit kabobs, which pair perfectly with a glass of wine!
• Buy fresh or frozen shrimp. Dethaw and serve with a low sugar, natural cocktail sauce. If you feel up to it, make your own cocktail sauce like this recipe from Eating Well!
• Mini sammies on whole-wheat pitas pockets or English muffins. Stack with turkey, cucumber, and a squirt of Dijon mustard or light mayo.
• Make mini Caprese bites by stacking a slice of fresh Buffalo mozzarella cheese with a thin tomato slice, and a tad of store-bought pesto!
• Fill mini paper cups (you know the ones we drank out of when we were little) with a scoop of cottage cheese, topped with slices of fresh pineapple or peaches. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and serve with a miniature spoon.
Food Should Taste Good chips-These all natural, low sodium chips are gluten, preservative and Trans fat free, and come in a variety of flavors from Jalapeno to Sweet Potato and Blue Corn. Serve in a bowl by themselves or in a tray with hummus, salsa or other light dips of your choice!
• Take advantage of the summer season, and serve a tray of sliced, fresh watermelon! Perfect thirst quencher and great for belly bloat too!
• Strawberries dipped in dark chocolate
• Grapes and apple slices served with a reduced fat cheese of choice!
• Slice a few pears up into thin slices. Then serve with a sweet/tart “dip” of Gorgonzola cheese, chopped walnuts, agave syrup or honey any cinnamon. Test as you go, as the recipe will change depending on how many you’re serving.
• Combine a container of Cool Whip Light with a packet of fat free vanilla pudding mix. Serve with various fresh fruits like strawberries, cantaloupe and melon!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Help: Summer Sweet Tooth Attack!

When the weather gets warmer, our craving for cold treats skyrockets as well, or at least mine does. A nice cold margarita , ice cream sundae or Fudgesicle suddenly looks a whole lot better than it did minus a few degrees. So with all this 70-degree Boston weather lately, my sweet tooth is off the wall.

But just 'cause temptations set in doesn't mean you need to finish an entire gallon of Ben and Jerry's ice cream or pound 5 martinis. That can't be healthy (or smart) for anyone. Um, hello, swim suit season is coming up! Don't worry, girl; I've got you covered with some better choices to tame those uncontrollable cravings so you don't have to miss out on all the fun after all (and you'll still look killer in a bikini)!

Fro Yo: Rather than diving into a giant ice cream sundae, why not opt for some Fro Yo instead? And no, I'm not talking about the supermarket crap you'll find loaded with fat and sugar! Opt for some fresh, non fat frozen yogurt at a local ice cream/gelato shop. You'll find many eateries these days carry the healthy varieties, from sugar free to fat free, still with all the yummy flavor. Last weekend, I paid a visit to Bubble Tea & Berry, which had several flavors of nonfat frozen yogurt to choose from, plus tons of fresh, wholesome options to add on top! Best part about it: it was self serve so I didn't need to get the over sized cone). I filled my cup with a teeny bit of chocolate/vanilla frozen yogurt, topped with fresh strawberries and blackberries. Other fun toppings included nuts, chocolate chips, fresh coconut and kiwi! The small portion satisfied my sweet tooth in no time, and I walked it off on the way home too!

Greek Yogurt: Speaking of yogurt, Greek yogurt is another option for a good-for-you dessert. Who ever thought you'd ever hear that in the same sentence? Dessert. . . good for you? Yup. Greek yogurt is loaded with nutrients, protein, and calcium, and is naturally low in sugar. Not to mention it supports a healthy digestive system! I like CHOBANI Plain 0% Greek Yogurt with only 100 calories per container, 0 grams of fat, 7 grams of sugar, and a whopping 18 grams of protein! Since it's not really sweet, I like to add fresh berries or banana, walnuts, flax seed oil and a little cinnamon to spruce it up! So delicious!

Order Drinks on the Rocks: OK, I know we're girls, but enough already with those girly fruity-pettutie drinks. If you really want something that sweet, you may as well buy some Juicy Juice! When you're out with friends, try to stick with drinks "On the Rocks." Vodka on the Rocks (or Vodka Soda) with a splash of cranberry of pineapple is always a delicious option, with a sweet burst to complement the bitterness. And if you're out for Mexican night, get your Margarita on the Rocks with natural agave syrup to save loads of calories compared to the frozen blended variety (which uses a high sugar, high cal mix).

Freeze Fresh Fruit: It's never fun when you buy a ton of fresh berries, only to have them go bad in just a few short days. Instead, why not freeze them to make them last longer and taste just as delicious (or even more)! I like freezing strawberries, blueberries, mango, and even grapes. It's perfect for a quick fresh snack on the go, or to cool you down on a hot day. Trader Joe's and other supermarkets also sell fruit already frozen so you don't even have to do the work. Trader Joe's Very Cherry Blend is low and calorie and absolutely to-die-for, made up of Bing cherries, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. You can eat those babies right out the bag they're so good!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nine Healthy Habits from the Kiwis: Living Healthy in New Zealand

So, I just got back from a two week trip in New Zealand and was taken aback at how different the country is from the U.S. There I saw the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen, got a taste of the New Zealand culture, and was able to experience the "adventure capital of the world" with everything from skydiving, bungee jumping and other extreme sports. But the most notable difference between our two countries is how incredibly healthy the people live over there.

Usually vacation consists of beers, burgers and chips, but no, not in New Zealand. I've never experienced such a healthy, wholesome vacation in my entire life, with a plethora of fresh food and endless outdoor activities. Throughout the two weeks, I did a little research and took note of some of the healthy habits the "Kiwis" practice. What stunned me most was that they don't even charge extra for eating healthy as they do in the States. You want a salad instead of fries, a special type of bread? No problem, free of cost. If only we could live a little more like that in the U.S.

Alas now, I'll share with you some of the things I've learned so that we too can live a little healthier, eat a little fresher, and be more at ease with our bodies. Check it out; it's pretty awesome. Or how the Kiwis would say: Sweet as.

1. Go Organic All Over: In New Zealand, the word "organic" was plastered over every menu. Literally, almost everything prepared was made with organic vegetables, fruits, grains, milk and even cheese. It's no wonder everyone looks so healthy over there! I ordered a wonderful salad the first day I was there, made with fresh greens, assorted veggies, nuts and organic cheese. Even their coffee and teas were made 100% organic, and I consequently felt healthier consuming in everything I ate. When you know where your food comes from and what it's made of, it makes all the difference for your body and overall wellness. Our bodies process organic natural food much better than other processed varieties.

2. Cut the Artificial Crap: Coffee shops and bakeries aren't filled with "sugar free" cookies or packets of Splenda like here in the U.S. In New Zealand, they keep it clean, providing natural sugars and honeys for sweeteners. More so, most of their food is made GMO-free. That is, it has not been genetically modified with additives like corn or soy beans to alter the taste. Rather, much of the food in their country was prepared natural. Even their gelato (which was oh so delicious by the way) was labeled GMO-free. My mom and I were shocked that we could pay such little price for such well made, natural food, which would be costly in the U.S. It's amazing that they take the health of their people so seriously in New Zealand, and I hope we can learn from them.

3. Go Green: In addition to offering a multitude of green foods, New Zealand also prides themselves in the fact that they are a green country. Everything was so clean there, with no litter on the street corners or toxic sewer smells. Even their coffee cups were made with recycled cardboard, and you must pay extra for a take away cup at coffee shops, even at Starbucks! While at first I was taken aback by this unexpected charge, I was delighted that they promote an environmentally friendly environment. This also allows people to sit back and enjoy a social cup of coffee with a friend, without always being on the go as we often get wrapped up in far too much. Next time you go to a cafe, try sitting down and eating your meal, drinking your tea or java out of a real mug. You'll save a cup while also catching up with a friend with some solid conversation.

4. Downsize Your Java: Speaking of coffee, their coffee servings are much different than what we're used to over here. Rather than being served in a ginormous cup overflowing with whipped cream and syrups, their coffees come in a small mug, the perfect pick-me-up portion. I drank a Cappuccino nearly everyday their, with just a tad of steamed "trim" milk (skim milk) and cinnamon on top. It left me feeling energized and refreshed, rather than full and drowsy, being the ultimate start to my day!

5. Keep it Clean: The food in New Zealand was prepared so fresh and clean, that I'm already having withdrawals missing it. Rather than giving the patron millions of fattening dressings and sauces to choose from, their salads and pastas were delivered with just a tad of oil and vinegar, fresh herbs and/or light sauces. One night, I had a light lunch composed of roasted vegetables, served with a tiny portion of Bearnaise sauce on the side for dipping. Turned out, I barely even needed any of the sauce, they were so darn good! Even their meat was cooked simple with organic sea salt with flavor, sans all the high-calorie barbecue sauces and gravies Americans drench on their meats. And surprisingly, it tasted just as good, even better than the high-fat varieties because you could actually savor the natural flavors of the food. One night, we ate Stone Grill style (where the meat is cooked on a 400 degree hot stone in front of you), and all of the meats (chicken, lamb, venison, and beef) were prepared only with salt, nothing else. I must say, I've never tasted something so delicious and succulent! Even their pizza was "clean," made with thin crust and covered in fresh feta cheese, pine nuts, and roasted veggies instead of loads of fatty cheeses, meats and sauce.

6. Choose Lean: Speaking of meats, New Zealand is known for having lean meats, especially since lamb is their #1 variety. They also had a number of lean options, from Venison to grilled chicken, making for a perfect salad topping or main meal. Even their Kebabs were prepared with lean meats and fresh toppings, that I actually felt healthy, rather than guilty, when eating one.

7. Embrace the Mountains: Enough about food. Another reason the Kiwis are so healthy is their exposure to so many outdoor activities. From hiking up a volcano to nature walks and glacier hikes, there is never a dull moment in New Zealand. Everyone stays active, even if that means simply walking to work or the local supermarket. Go ahead, plan out a hiking trip with your friends or head out to a biking trail! It's time to embrace the warm weather and get outside, girl!

8. Take time for You: With all the crazy hustle bustle, we often forget to take time for ourselves. Not in New Zealand. There were a number of spas, salons and other such arenas to help alleviate stress and improve your energy levels. After a day at the Polynesian Day Spa in Rotorua, I felt better then ever-refreshed, rejuvenated and ready for anything. I suggest you take the time once in a while to be pampered as well, whether that's treating yourself to a mani/pedi, massage or simply allowing for some quiet "me" time.

9. Be Sensitive to Your Allergies: It amazed me how food-allergy-friendly New Zealand was. Being sensitive to wheat, I am always nervous about traveling, never knowing what kind of food they'll have available. I didn't need to worry at all in New Zealand. In fact, it was as easy as ordering a burger to get a meal made gluten free in their country. From gluten free bread, to gluten free pasta, they had it all! Better yet, I didn't even have to ask the waiter what was in the food as each item was conveniently labeled with a "G" for Gluten free at nearly every restaurant I went to. What impressed me most was that their was no extra charge for the gluten free varieties, which is great because why would one have to pay extra due to a food allergy anyway? I'm hoping the U.S. starts to take tips from New Zealand, as dining out has never been so easy for me. I was able to follow my dietary needs without worrying or spending tons of extra dough to do so!

Highlight: New Zealand Style Fresh Spring Salad
*Serves 2
*1/2 cup Arugula
*1/2 cup Baby Spinach
*2 small clementines, broken into segments
*1/2 large pear, chopped
*3 TB feta or gorgonzola cheese
*handful of pine nuts
*1/4 cup Vidalia onion, chopped and sauteed in Olive Oil
*2 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Plus a little extra for onions)
*2 TB lemon juice, fresh
*Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients, and top with warm sauteed onions. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice; salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!