Don’t overlook these healthy side dishes when at your next barbecue

8 Healthy Side Dishes on Your Barbecue Menu

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read blog here.


Barbecues are not known for their healthy side dishes, but there are some exceptions. The best of the lot feature seasonal vegetables that are minimally dressed — meaning not wearing mayonnaise like a winter coat. Look for these sides to fill your paper plate, or add to the grill to make your own healthy sides.


Healthy Side Dishes: Baked Beans: Yes, beans are vegetables! They’re also a good source of protein, but much lower in fat than any meat on the grill, so they can be a side dish that replaces the beef, pork, or poultry on the menu.

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Healthy Side Dishes: Salsa: Typically used as a dip for greasy chips, salsa is at its best when paired with barbecued meats and fish since it means “sauce.” Skip the chips and spoon it onto your plate to enjoy as a spicy side dish.


Healthy Side Dishes: Grilled Corn: Brush it with olive oil before grilling to savor the toasty corn flavor without any butter. The extra time it takes to eat it off the cob helps you feel more satisfied by the time you’re done.


Healthy Side Dishes: Garnishes & Condiments: Make your own salad from the burger toppings and garnishes found on the other salad platters. Make a base with lettuce and tomato, then pile on the radishes roses, pepper rings, carrot curls and cucumber slices.

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Healthy Side Dishes: Coleslaw: Crunchy raw cabbage beats potato and macaroni when sizing up the nutritional merits of the 3 most popular mayonnaise-coated salads. Serve yours with a slotted spoon to leave some of the dressing behind.


Healthy Side Dishes: Grilled Crudité: Gather raw vegetables from the crudité and add to the grill for a flavorful side that needs no dip. Try carrot sticks, zucchini strips, green beans, asparagus, mushrooms and more for a flavorful side dish.


Healthy Side Dishes: Roasted Peppers: Salvage some peppers before they end up tossed with the sausage and turn them into a side dish. The more colorful the better.


Healthy Side Dishes: Sauerkraut: This pickled cabbage can be eaten hot or cold and deserves to be more than a frankfurter topping with just 27 calories per cup. The high salt content isn’t for everyone, but can help replace sodium lost in sweat by those who are more active.

Fears of pesticides in produce may keep people from eating recommended servings of fruits and vegetables

Do You Worry About Pesticides in Produce?


This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.

Am I the only one who found it odd that the 2012 report on Pesticides in Produce was released this week, right in the middle of Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month? Stranger still, the report arrived just one day before the start of summer when many people across the country look forward to shopping at their local farm markets.

Talk about taking the spin out of your salad…

Why All the Fuss About Produce?

I do my best to encourage clients and readers to fill up on fruits and vegetables every day of the year, not just in June. The Dietary Guidelines recommend from 5 to 10 servings a day for those with caloric intakes between 1200 and 2400. Yet a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found less than a third of Americans consume even the minimum of five servings a day.

The reasons people don’t reach those goals are as varied as the salad dressings lining their refrigerator doors. Now we have to contend with the latest release of the Dirty Dozen in the produce aisles. That’s a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residues published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

As a consolation prize, they also identify a list of the 15 fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide residues, known as the Clean 15™.

What’s Wrong With the Pesticides in Produce™ Report?

I have two big issues with these lists. First, they undermine the more important objective of getting Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables. There is no single dietary change that can produce more health benefits than reaching that goal. And while the report does encourage people to keep eating produce, that message is lost in the sensationalized coverage of the dangers of the Dirty Dozen™.

My second issue with those lists is that they use measurements of pesticide residue as a sign of a problem without providing any evidence that they pose a risk to our health. Sure, it sounds alarming, but what would be the quality, quantity, and cost of our produce if no pesticides were used?

If you think the answer lies in buying only organically grown produce, you’re in for a surprise. They are not 100% pesticide free, either.

So what can you do? Here’s my check list to help you with your produce purchases.

Getting the Best Value From the Fruits and Vegetables You Buy

[ ] Buy produce in all forms: fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juice

[ ] Change the variety of the fresh produce you buy with the seasons

[ ] Wash everything you buy, even things with a skin or peel you discard

[ ] Limit the use of imported produce since pesticide regulations are different outside the US

[ ] Use organically grown if you are juicing large amounts for daily consumption

What would make it easier for you to eat 5 or more servings of produce each day?

Use these tips to shop at local farm markets this summer

Shopping at Local Farm Markets: All-You-Need-To-Know Guide


This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

There’s nothing better than visiting local farm markets to buy fresh produce. That is, unless you grow your own. I’m lucky enough to do both.

Each summer I grow what I can in my backyard and shop from the back of pick-up trucks and simple road-side stands for the rest. If you’ve never shopped at a farmer’s market before, it’s time to start!

Why Shop at Farm Markets?

Buying fresh, seasonal and locally produced food has nutritional and environmental benefits and helps support the farmers in your area. Of course, you will still have to buy produce in your grocery store since no part of the country grows everything you may need – especially if you like bananas – but your first stop should be the farm stand.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made it easy to find farm markets in every state. Just plug in your zip code on the Agriculture Marketing Service site to get market locations in your area and information about what’s in season and forms of payment accepted.

If you prefer to buy organically grown produce you will find the prices much better than those charged in health food stores and supermarkets. Farms that have received organic certification will display a sign on their stand, but it’s worth asking the others. Since getting certified is a costly process, many farmers use organic growing methods and skip the certification.

Tips on What to Buy

  • Check your calendar before arriving to have an idea of how many meals you’ll be shopping for in the coming week.
  • Carry a cookbook to get recipe ideas for less familiar products.
  • Be flexible with your menu plans, the market only carries what’s ripe and recently harvested.
  • Ask the farmer to identify unfamiliar items and how to prepare them. They love to share ideas.
  • Don’t forget some flowers for the table!

Tips on How to Shop

  • Bring cash, preferably smaller bills.
  • Tote your own bags for individual items and a strong satchel to put everything in.
  • Use saved plastic baskets or other plastic containers with lids for delicate berries, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes.
  • Put a cooler in the car if produce will be left in it for any length of time on hot days.

Tips on Buying in Bulk (for Canning, Drying & Freezing)

  • Prices drop after the first harvest of any crop. If you want a quantity of something, wait until the second or third week it’s for sale. (Ask the farmer for expected harvest dates.)
  • Request “seconds,” the slightly bruised pieces that are fine for jams and pies. Farmers are happy to sell them for less.
  • Arrive later in the day to get close-out deals.
  • Buy fresh herbs to make pesto.

Watch for my upcoming story on pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms – the perfect combination of food and fitness in a fun afternoon!

One of the best values in the frozen food section of your grocery store is the vegetables.

It’s Frozen Food Month: Got Vegetables?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.


What’s the one frozen food I always have on hand? Frozen vegetables! They are my go-to staple that allow me to prepare nutritious and varied meals no matter how sparse the rest of my pantry. Right now I have cubed butternut squash, petite peas, broccoli florets, edamame in the pod, and baby lima beans.

I was first introduced to frozen vegetables as a child when my parents bought a chest freezer. Every three months a delivery of frozen food arrived on our back porch. The carefully labeled brown corrugated boxes packed in dry ice were filled with every cut of beef imaginable, cylinders of frozen orange juice concentrate, and tidy square boxes of frozen vegetables.

My sisters and I had the privilege of taking turns to pick out what vegetable our family would have for dinner each night. Thus began my exposure to an international assortment of frozen vegetables that included everything from French cut green beans Brussels sprouts!

What’s new in the frozen food aisle?

If you think Americans don’t like frozen vegetables, think again. The freezer cases in grocery stores now devote as much space to vegetables as they do ice cream!

Frozen vegetables are now available in single-serving containers and family-sized bags as well as those same tidy 10 ounce boxes. As if it weren’t convenient enough not having to clean, peel, or chop frozen vegetables, you can now also steam them right in the bag or box in your microwave oven.

The assortment of individual vegetables has expanded beyond the classic green beans, carrots, peas, and corn, and so have the medleys. They come with embellishments, too, to win over the fussiest eaters. You can find frozen vegetables with butter, cheese, or teriyaki sauce, and creamed. Some are combined with rice, potatoes, or pasta while others just need the addition of chicken, beef or shrimp to make a complete meal.

Why pick a frozen food over fresh?

When it comes to vegetables, buying them frozen insures you are getting the best quality at the best price all year round. The varieties grown are selected for their flavor, not their durability, and can be harvested at their nutritional peak since they don’t have to withstand the long shipping and storage times necessary for fresh vegetables. And remember, the longer a fresh vegetable spends in your refrigerator, the less nutritious it is by the time you eat it.

What frozen vegetables do you have in your freezer?

Pumpkin deserves a place on the menu all year long for its high nutritional value.

What’s So Great About Pumpkins? Everything!

Pumpkins are a nutritious addition to the diet all year round

The capital O in October is just one of several reminders that it is the month that celebrates pumpkins! Of course, there is no reason to wait until the 10th month of the year (there’s another big circle) to enjoy this nutritious vegetable, but for most Americans, this is the season when they’re sure to have their fill.

Little Known Facts About Pumpkins

Pumpkins are believed to be native to North America, with the oldest pumpkin-related seeds found in Mexico and dated between 7000-5500 BC. Today they are grown on every continent except Antarctica. The U.S., Mexico, India and China are the biggest producers of pumpkin, with 95% of the U.S. crop grown in Illinois.

Pumpkin is included in cuisines around the world and used by veterinarians as a digestive aid for dogs and cats. It is also used raw as poultry feed and added to other animal food.

The current world record for the largest pumpkin weighed in at 1,810 pounds. There are also pumpkin chucking contests where various mechanical devices are used to see how far a pumpkin can be hurled. The world record was placed on September 9, 2010 using a pneumatic air cannon that fired a pumpkin 5,545.43 feet.

Pumpkins enjoy a special place in folklore where witches turn people into pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns ward off demons. In fiction pumpkins have run the gamut from being turned into a carriage for Cinderella and consumed as a favored drink by the students of the Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft in Harry Potter novels.

Important Nutrition Information About Pumpkins

Like most fruits and vegetables, fresh pumpkins are 90% water. And just like every other plant, they contain no cholesterol. One cup of boiled, drained and mashed pumpkin flesh contains these nutrients:

Macronutrients: Calories 49 , Fat 0g, Carbohydrate 12g of which naturally occurring sugar makes up 2g, Fiber 3g, Protein 2g.

Minerals: Potassium 565mg/16%*, Copper 0.2mg/11%, Manganese 0.2mg/11%, Iron 1.4mg/8%, Phosphorus 73.5mg/7%, Magnesium 22mg/6%, Calcium 36.7mg/4%, Zinc 0.6mg/4%, Sodium 2.5mg/0%.•

Vitamins: A 12231 IU/245%*, C 11.5mg/19%, B2 0.2mg/11%, E 2.0 mg/10%, Folate 22.0mg/6%, B1 0.1 mg/5%, B6 0.1mg/5%, Pantothenic Acid 0.5mg/5%, K 2.0mcg/2%

*Percentage of the Daily Value based on a 2000 calorie per day diet

Phytonutrients (plant nutrients that are neither vitamins nor minerals): Alpha and Beta carotenes, which can be converted into Vitamin A once consumed, and both Lutein and Zeaxanthin, which help protect the eyes from macular degeneration.

Uses Beyond Your Holiday Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkins are members of the winter squash family of vegetables and can be prepared in many of the same ways as members of that group, like butternut, Hubbard and turban squash. Whether you carve and cook your own or buy a canned pumpkin, it deserves a place on your menu all year long.

Here is a sampling of some of the many recipes you can find that include pumpkin:

Biscuits • Bread • Brownies • Brulee • Burgers • Cheesecake • Chili • Cookies • Crackers • Cream Cheese • Curry • Custard • Flan • Hash • Fudge • Muffins • Oatmeal • Pancakes • Pudding • Ravioli • Risotto • Salad • Scones • Smoothies • Soufflé • Soup • Stew • Waffles • Yogurt