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Sherrie Norris Lovin’ Spoonful Cooking Column: It’s “Heart Month” – Let’s Be “Heart-Smart”

By Sherrie Norris

February has long been considered Heart Month, and according to The American Heart Association, there’s no better time than the present to begin eating “heart-smart.”

Many of us tend to think of “Heart Month” only from a romantic point of view, but the best way to show your love is to prepare and/or share healthy and nutritious meals that will help keep those life-sustaining vessels pumping for a long time to come.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, there’s a lot we can do to prevent heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. It is suggested that we begin by working together with our friends, family, neighbors or colleagues to meet heart health goals. Move more, work on our weight and salt intake, quit smoking. It’s all easier, they tell us (and as I have proved in the past!) when you have good social support. Let’s do it together!

Recommended Healthy Eating Plan (NHLBI)

A healthy eating plan gives your body the nutrients it needs every day while staying within your daily calorie goal for weight loss. A healthy eating plan also will lower your risk for heart disease and other health conditions. 

Recommendations include the following:

  • Emphasize vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
  • Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
  • Limit saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars.
  • Control portion sizes.
  • To lose weight, most people need to reduce the number of calories they get from food and beverages (energy IN) and increase their physical activity (energy OUT). 
  • For a weight loss of 1–1 ½ pounds per week, daily intake should be reduced by 500 to 750 calories.
  • In general:
  • Eating plans that contain 1,200–1,500 calories each day will help most women lose weight safely.
  • Eating plans that contain 1,500–1,800 calories each day are suitable for men and for women who weigh more or who exercise regularly.

Very low calorie diets of fewer than 800 calories per day should not be used unless you are being monitored by your doctor.


 Now, for a few heart-healthy recipes:


Chicken-Vegetable Stir-Fry

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, all visible fat removed

1 ½ Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce

1 Tbs. grated fresh gingerroot or 1 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. acceptable olive oil

2 med. green, red, or yellow bell peppers, or any combination, cut into 1-inch strips

4 green onions (green and white parts), cut into 1-inch strips

¾ cup pineapple chunks, fresh or canned in their juice (reserve juice)

2/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Reserved pineapple juice

1½ Tbs. cornstarch

1 Tbs. sesame seeds, toasted

Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels. Cut breasts into 1-inch cubes. Marinate in soy sauce and ginger for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a nonstick wok or skillet, heat oil over high heat. Add chicken and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken, leaving juices in the pan. Add peppers and onions; stir-fry for 1 minute. Add pineapple and chicken; stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Vegetables should be tender-crisp.

Pour broth and reserved pineapple juice into a small bowl. Add cornstarch, stirring to dissolve. Stir into chicken mixture. Boil for about 1 minute, or until thickened and smooth. Put on serving dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serves 6.


Alaska Salmon Salad

1 fillet (14 oz.) salmon

⅓ cup chopped green onion

⅓ cup chopped celery

⅓ cup nonfat plain yogurt

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Ground black pepper, to taste

Bake fresh, unsalted salmon (until it flakes easily with a fork in the thickest part). Flake, place in a bowl, and chill.

After salmon has chilled, stir in the remaining ingredients.

Season with black pepper to taste.

Serve as a side dish, on a bed of salad greens, or spread on low-fat, low-sodium bread or unsalted crackers.


Beef Stroganoff – Healthy variation

1 lb. lean beef (top round)

2 tsp. vegetable oil, divided

¾ Tbsp. finely chopped onion

1 lb. sliced mushrooms

¼ tsp. salt

Ground black pepper, to taste

¼ tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. dried basil

¼ cup white wine

1 cup nonfat plain yogurt

6 cups cooked macaroni, cooked in unsalted water

Cut beef into 1-inch cubes. Heat 1 tsp. oil in a nonstick skillet, and sauté onion for 2 minutes. Add beef to skillet and sauté for an additional 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Remove from skillet and keep hot.

Add remaining oil to skillet; sauté mushrooms. Add beef and onions to pan, along with seasonings. Add wine and yogurt; gently stir in. Heat, but do not boil. Serve with macaroni.

Tip: If thickening is desired, add 2 tsp. cornstarch with seasonings.


Classic Honey Flan

Nonstick cooking spray

1 large egg

½ cup egg substitute

1½ cup fat-free (skim) milk

¼ cup plus 3 Tbsp. honey, divided

½ tsp. grated lemon zest

1 tsp. vanilla

½ tsp. ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 325. Spray four ovenproof custard cups with nonstick cooking spray.

Bring water to boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine the whole egg, egg substitute, milk, ¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp. of honey, grated lemon zest, and vanilla. Beat until mixed, but not foamy.

In a separate bowl, combine 2 Tbsp. of honey and cinnamon; mix to blend well.

Place custard cups in a baking dish that is large enough to accommodate them, plus the water that will be poured around them, (but not into them!) thus making a “water bath.”

Spoon ½ Tbsp. of honey and cinnamon into each custard cup. Divide egg mixture equally into each custard cup.

Place baking dish on middle rack in the oven and pour boiling water into the baking dish to a depth of 1 inch, taking care not to let the water splash into the flan. Bake for 45 minutes or until a knife blade comes out clean when inserted.

Serve warm or cold. Before serving, loosen the edges with a knife or spatula and invert onto individual dessert plates.


Recipes from “Keep the Beat” a trademark of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.