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Sherrie Norris Lovin’ Spoonful Cooking Column: Thinking Happy and Healthy for the New Year

The clock is ticking and a brand new year is rapidly approaching. The Christmas cookies, candies, cakes and breads have likely been consumed in large quantities and/or perhaps shared with others, frozen for another time, thrown out the back door to the wildlife or into the garbage can. Cleaning off my counter and emptying out the fridge (using all the above tactics) was quite a welcome undertaking this week, as I couldn’t wait to return my space as quickly as possible to a relatively neater, less tempting smorgasbord area.

I love to cook, bake and take — but I also love to taste test everything before it leaves my kitchen. You know, for quality control. But, oh my goodness, do I feel the overload . . . and it’s not a good thing.

I’m sure that I am not the only one feeling a bit disillusioned with myself for adding the padding after holiday feasting, but as we all usually do, I am definitely planning a new year do-over. I just haven’t decided exactly what I’m doing or how.

But, thanks to the most recent issues of my favorite women’s magazine — I know I have options. The cover stories have my attention: “Drop 11 Pounds This week without Dieting;”  “Noshing on Butter, Heavy Cream or Cheese . . . ENDS STRESS,” and the very next issue offers “Lose 24 lbs. THIS WEEK! Slash Blood Pressure  . . . Lower Cholesterol.”

 I’m sure they all will work.

Plus, in my “wellness cabinet,” I still have several bottles of unused “miracle” capsules, along with some “personalized” liquid formulas designed to decrease appetite and make me feel 30 again. And, I’m certain there’s a few more “options” within my reach.  Not to mention the stationary bike and treadmill in the reading room. Or the friend who is always ready and willing to walk with me in the mornings.

So, I have no excuse, right? New year, new you, new me. Let’s find a sensible life-style plan to follow and stick with it, this time. My greatest weight-loss successes in the past have been pretty much centered around more proteins and veggies with fewer carbohydrates. And exercise.

I’m digging through my “tried and trues” for a few ideas that I hope will help us all get back on track to a happy and healthy new year. I know we can do it.

  • Order two appetizers: Instead of an entrée, that is. It’s no big secret that serving sizes at restaurants have grown exponentially over the last couple of decades. According to a study at the UNC-Chapel Hill, the average hamburger is 23 percent larger today than it was in 1977, and soft drinks are a whopping 50 percent bigger. Choose a pasta dish and salad or soup from the appetizer column. The smaller sizes won’t wreak havoc on your dietary goals.
  • One visit to the vending machine: Nibbling on single servings is better than digging your way to the bottom of a mega-bag of chips. Just don’t bring a whole roll of quarters along during your next snack attack.

  •  Start with salad and you will usually eat less during the rest of the meal. A recent study included 33 women who ate a variation of the same garden salad 20 minutes before a main pasta course. When the salads were topped with low-fat mozzarella and low-calorie Italian dressing, instead of high-fat alternatives, the women ate 10 percent fewer calories over the course of the day.

  • Stick a fork in it: If you prefer your salad dressing on the side, dip your fork into it before stabbing your greens, to cut calories. Plunging an already-loaded fork into the buttermilk ranch will pick up more of the creamy condiment  — and the calories that come with it.
  • Watch coffee calories: The fancy concoctions that are now the javas of choice for many people can contain as many calories as an entire lunch. A 16-oz. Caffé Mocha with whole milk, for instance, packs 400 calories — about the same as found in a grilled-chicken sandwich, along with 22 grams of fat and 33 grams of sugar. If a regular cup of joe bores you, slim down your latte by going with skim or 2 percent milk.
  • Walk and talk: The next time a call on your cell phone keeps you yakking for a while, slip on your walking shoes, and stroll the halls at work or hoof it outside. If you did this for 10 minutes every workday at a moderate 3 mph pace, you’d burn about 1,000 calories a month and lose 3 pounds a year.
  • Crack a nut: Dieters in a Harvard University study who ate a handful of peanuts or mixed nuts daily were more likely to keep weight off than a group whose regimen didn’t include the high-fat snacks. Remember, though, that nuts are not only rich in heart-healthy fats but also calorie-dense: Count out 15 almonds or cashews or 30 pistachios to keep your consumption in check.
  • Don’t just sit there: The average person burns 100 calories per hour sitting and 140 per hour standing. Get on your feet two hours a day while you work, and you could drop an extra six pounds over the year.
  • Sleep well, lose more: It is believed that sleep loss may hinder your efforts to lose extra pounds. Insufficient shut-eye appears to increase production of the stress hormone cortisol, which regulates appetite. High levels seem to worsen bingeing and hunger; moreover, too little sleep could keep your body from burning carbohydrates, which translates to more stored body fat.
  • Double your protein: The high-protein, low-carb approach may help keep you from losing muscle along with fat. According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, 24 overweight women ate 9 to 10 oz. of lean meat, three servings of low-fat dairy, and at least five servings of vegetables a day — roughly double the protein and half the carbs of the average American. Over 10 weeks, the women lost 16 pounds, about the same number as a control group who ate according to the USDA Food Guide Pyramid. But the women who pumped up the protein lost two more pounds of fat while maintaining a pound more of calorie-burning muscle than the other subjects. The secret: the amino acid leucine, found in beef, dairy, poultry, fish and eggs, which according to study author, it may help preserve muscle tissue.
  • Keep an exercise journal: Writing down your fitness achievements is a great way to track your progress, give yourself positive feedback and maintain focus on your goals.

Spinach Mix

5 cups (packed) spinach leaves, washed and dried well

½ red onion, sliced thin

½ red pepper, sliced

1 whole cucumber, sliced

2 oranges, peeled and chopped into bite-size pieces

1/3 cup of bottled “lite” vinaigrette dressing

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Add dressing and toss again. Serve immediately.

 Broiled Salmon with Maple Mustard Glaze

1/3 cup sugar-free pancake syrup

½ cup water

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

2 garlic cloves, pushed through a press

¼ tsp. salt

4 (8-oz.) salmon fillets, 1-inch thick

In a small heavy saucepan combine syrup, water, mustard, garlic, and salt and simmer until reduced to about ½ cup. Cool. Heat broiler; arrange salmon, skin side down, on oiled rack of broiler pan and season with salt. Broil salmon 4″ from heat source, 6 minutes. Brush with sauce and broil until just cooked through, about 4 minutes more.

Cool Turkey Salad

2 cups cubed Granny Smith apples

1 cup halved grapes

½ cup chopped celery

1 cup cooked turkey, cubed

½ cup low-calorie cucumber ranch salad dressing

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients; stir gently to coat. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until serving.

Herbed Lemon Chicken Breasts

6 (4 oz.) boneless skinless chicken breast halves

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. Mrs. Dash Lemon Pepper Seasoning Blend

1 Tbsp. unsalted margarine

1 medium fresh lemon, zested and juiced

1 cup low sodium chicken stock

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

Pat chicken breasts dry. Place flour and Mrs. Dash Lemon Pepper Seasoning Blend in a plate and mix thoroughly. Dredge chicken breasts in flour mixture. Heat margarine in a large skillet and add chicken. Brown chicken on both sides but do not cook through. Transfer chicken to large casserole dish. In a bowl, mix zest and juice from one lemon, chicken stock and brown sugar. Pour over chicken. Bake for 30-35 minutes in 375°F preheated oven or until chicken breasts are cooked through.