My top ten favorite items from Trader Joes

I love Trader Joes! Oh how I love thee, let me count the ways:

1. They are inexpensive

2. They carry a wide selection of healthy, organic and fresh foods

3. Their Trader Joes brand is high quality

4. They sell grass-fed beef and chicken with no antibiotics or hormones

I shop at Trader Joes weekly and I have many favorite products, so I wanted to do a series of my top ten favorite items from Trader Joes:

10. Fiberful Ends and Pieces – These flavorful, sweet dried fruit strips are delicious and full of fiber. The perfect food to throw in your purse for a day full of errands.

9. Just a Handful – Cashews – Two words – Portion Control

8. Organic Sorrento Mix – You can’t beat $1.99 for a fresh, organic blend of fresh salad greens.

7. Trader Joe’s 0% Greek Yogurt – I use Greek Yogurt in everything! I use it instead of sour cream, I use it in place of oil in my baked goods, I eat it with berries, I use it in cooking. Yum! My favorite way to eat Greek Yogurt is by mixing in frozen blueberries and a drizzle of honey and then stirring until combined. It tastes like ice cream!

6. Almond Butter with Flaxseed – This is the best of both worlds. Healthy almond butter, rich with vitamin E, and flaxseeds full of lignans, which protect against breast and prostate cancer.

5. Pre-sliced mango – Have you ever tried to slice a mango? It is not easy because of the big pit in the middle of the fruit. Watch this video made by SparkPeople on how to slice a mango, it definitely made it easier, but it is still much easier to buy pre-sliced.

4. Chicken Eggrolls – My kids love having Chinese food night, but most commercially made egg rolls are full of fat, sugar and oil. Not the Trader Joes version! You can have one of these heathfully packed egg rolls for only 150 calories. Not bad!

3. Strawberry Keifer – My daughter is allergic to milk and I was getting concerned with her calcium intake until I found Trader Joes delicious strawberry keifer. My daughter loves it and it also makes a great substitute for butter and oil in baked goods.

2. Organic Free-Range Whole Chicken – I love that Trader Joes sells organic, free-range, antibiotic-free chicken. I feel better knowing that I’m not pumping my kids full of unnatural ingrediants. I usually roast the chicken on Sunday and serve half of the chicken on Sunday night. I make homemade chicken stock with the carcess and then add the leftover chicken, veggies and brown rice for a filling soup to eat for lunch for the remainder of the week.

1. Melange a Trois – This trifecta of red, yellow and green peppers makes eating veggies easy, delicious and fast! I add these frozen peppers to everything from my eggs in the morning to my chicken fajitas. Even my kids will eat them! The best part – no cutting or mess!

What is your favorite Trader Joes product? Would love to hear from you!

Check out my Working Mother magazine blog

I am happy to announce that I have a new blog column for Working Mother magazine called “Fit Family of Foodies.”  This blog will be all about food, family and fitness.

I will open up the dialogue about the challenges and solutions for staying fit, exercising and getting the entire family to eat healthy while balancing the demands of work and home.

Please visit the Fit Family of Foodies Blog on Working Mother magazine’s website and let me know what you think! Today is my premiere, so I’d love for you to leave a comment on the site.

As always, I will continue the Healthiest Foods on Earth blog, and I have a lot of cool topics coming up! Follow me on my Healthiest Foods on Earth Blog, Working Mother Fit Family of Foodies Blog and Modern Parent Blog to stay up-to-date on the latest news in health and nutrition. I’d love to hear what you think!

Heathfully,

Stacy

Chicken Cacciatore Made by a Cacciatore – Secret Family Recipe Lightened Up

Given that my last name is Cacciatore, you would think that Chicken Cacciatore would be part of our family’s regular repertoire of meals. However, traditional chicken cacciatore can be high in calories, especially when served over pasta, so I hadn’t prepared the beloved family recipe in years.

I bought fresh mushrooms at Trader Joes last weekend because they are one of the 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. I originally planned to make a mushroom pizza, but I realized I didn’t have all of the ingredients. I scanned my cookbooks and my dog-eared, worn and stained family cookbook and tripped upon our old family recipe for Chicken Cacciatore. I decided to lighten up our version and make it in the crock-pot instead of on the stove.

The mushrooms took the lead in this recipe, which had my kids skeptical. Mushrooms are odd if you think about it. They are a fungus and they grow on organic matter, such as decaying wood and cow patties. They’ve been used medicinally in Eastern medicine for years. Mushrooms are able to absorb and safely eliminate toxins. Cremini (white button mushrooms) are packed with nutrients. One 5-ounce serving has 50 percent of the Daily Value for the cancer fighting mineral selenium, 40 percent of the Daily Value for riboflavin, 35 percent of copper and 30 percent of niacin, 20 percent of panthothenic acid, phosphorus, zinc and 10 percent of manganese and thiamin. Also, a new study in The Journal of Nutrition just found that cremini mushrooms reduce the severity of collagen-induced arthritis. That is just among many of the the health benefits of mushrooms which include:

  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Protect against breast and prostate cancer
  • Protect against infections with their natural antibiotics
  • Boost immunity
  • Contribute to weight loss
  • Relieve arthritis

I was surprised when I read research that proved mushrooms can contribute towards weight loss because of their antioxidant L-ergothioneine. L-ergothioneine.acts as a metabolic energy enhancer and stimulates the breakdown of sugar in red blood cells and transports fat into the mitochondria of the cells where the fat can be burned for energy. This amazing transformation is exactly what those expensive weight loss pills promise to do, but don’t deliver.

My Chicken Cacciatore recipe is a great example of a traditional favorite made even better with healthier ingredients, quicker prep time and easier preparation for the busy working mom. This recipe only took me minutes to throw together in the crock-pot before work and my family has begged me to start making this every week. This recipe is also great for sneaking veggies in your diet. There are three servings of vegetables in this recipe; tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms. Quick, easy, healthy and perfect for the busy family on the go – You can’t ask for more! Try out the recipe and let me know what you think.

Cacciatore Family Chicken Cacciatore

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 ½ tsp Italian seasoning
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups cremini mushrooms
  • 1 cup Trader Joes triple pepper mix
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • Whole Wheat Penne Pasta

Preparation

  • Place the chicken breasts in the bottom of the Crockpot and sprinkle with salt and pepper,
  • Mix the tomato sauce, tomato paste and chicken broth together. Add the 2 cups of mushrooms, red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning and pepper strips. Pour tomato sauce mixture over the chicken breasts.
  • Cook on low in the Crockpot for 7-8 hours
  • Right before serving, cook whole wheat penne until al dente.
  • Serve chicken and sauce over penne and grate a bit of parmesan cheese on top.

Southern New Year's: Collard Greens & Black Eyed Peas

New Year’s Day in the south isn’t complete without black-eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread. We have a tradition in our family to eat black eyed peas to bring luck in the new year and collard greens to bring money. I typically am not a fan of this cruciferous vegetable, but I eat it at least once a year.

We had a New Year’s Day celebration, combining the best of the northern and southern traditions, with a menu of kielbasa, sauerkraut, pork chops, collard greens, black eyed peas and corn bread.

Collard greens are pure “soul food” and have been a staple of Southern cooking for years. Collards are a cross between cabbage and kale and are loaded with valuable cancer-fighting phyotochemicals.

Just like spinach, collards are loaded with calcium. One cup of collards provides as much calcium as in 8 ounces of milk and a whopping 5 grams of fiber. This nutritional powerhouse is also loaded with magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C, A and K. You can get all of these vitamins, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are key nutrients for eye health, for a measly 49 calories per cup. Talk about getting the most bang for your buck! Speaking of buck, collard greens are also very inexpensive, especially when purchased fresh. Just make sure you clean them thoroughly before cooking.

I wish I had a great recipe I could share for collard greens, but sadly we just make them the easy way: from the can. It provides just as many key nutrients, but without the fuss. I wish you a very Happy New Year! May 2011 bring you luck, love and all of your heart’s desires.

I can’t believe that I started the 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth blog one year ago today. I’m looking forward to sharing more healthy foods, recipes and tips in 2011. I hope you stay with me in my journey to healthier eating in 2011. I’d love to hear from you. What would you like to see on this blog in 2011? Anything you want me to start doing? Stop doing? Continue doing? I’d love to hear your feedback.

Peek at the Power of Pecans

The holidays bring delicious food that we indulge in only once a year. For my family that includes sweet potato casserole with candied pecan topping. The original recipe was my Grandma’s and I looked forward to eating it every year when I was a child. She passed along the recipe to me when I got married and over the years I’ve tweaked it a bit and lightened it up while still keeping the delicious flavors. Some people top their sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, but we always use pecans, which I didn’t realize they are a super food until now. 

I’ve always thought of nuts as fattening, but I was misinformed. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, it isn’t the total amount of fat that matters, it is the type of fat. And pecans are full of the heart healthy kind – monounsaturated.

Monounsaturated fats, also called MUFAs, have been found to contribute to a healthy heart and slim body.

The University of Michigan Integrative Medicine reported that a diet high in monounsaturated fats have many health benefits, including:

  • Decreased risk for breast cancer
  • Reduced cholesterol levels
  • Lower risk for heart disease and stroke
  • Weight loss
  • Less severe pain and stiffness for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reduced belly fat

 Other foods high in MUFAs include: olive oil, avocadoes, almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts.

 There are two considerations when enjoying pecans, or any other nut:

  1. Keep them Cool – the same oil in the nuts that provides the health benefits also contributes to making the pecans go rancid pretty quickly. Keep your pecans in the freezer or refrigerator in an airtight container to keep fresh for up to one year.
  2. Control those portions – While the fat in nuts is good for your heart, too many calories still contribute to an expanded waistline. One portion equals twenty pecans halves. Use the snack size baggies to divide a bag of pecans into several one ounce portions.

My annual indulgence doesn’t seem so bad now, between the sweet potatoes and pecans it is practically a health food….well, maybe I shouldn’t go that far, but it could be much worse, right? 

Try out my lightened up version of my Grandma’s sweet potato casserole and let me know what you think. Do you have a favorite holiday food? Do you follow a diet high in MUFAs? 

Stacy’s Sweet Potato Casserole 

Sweet Potatoes

  • 3 cups of mashed sweet potatoes or 2 large cans yams
  • 1/2 cup fat-free evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup Truvia or other sugar-free substitute
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie  

Topping

  • ¼ cup brown sugar splenda
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup melted butter 

Instructions

Mash the sweet potatoes or yams with a potato masher, then mix the next five ingredients together and pour in a casserole dish. Mix the topping ingredients together and spoon the mixture over the sweet potato mixture. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Day 64: Just Peachy

Peaches are my favorite food in the world! I feel so lucky to live in South Carolina where peaches are fresh, local and delicious all summer long! I live minutes away from the most beautiful, bountiful peach orchard around, Springs Farm. I drive past The Peach Stand everyday and I buy a basket of peaches every week during the summer. There is a HUGE difference between the hard, sour peaches available at the grocery store and the fresh, juicy, sweet peaches from The Peach Stand. They have the best peaches in the world, but don’t worry if you don’t live near the area, because they sell their peaches online and ship them around the country.

I stopped by The Peach Stand again this morning and picked up a fresh batch. I have an entire cookbook with only peach recipes, so I have no shortage of ideas of what to do with my peaches. The only problem I have is choosing which one of the delicious recipes to make!

Even though I have hundreds of peach recipes, my favorite way to enjoy a peach is just as God provided; fresh off of the tree. My kids and I went to Bush-n-Vine this Summer to pick our own peaches. This is an annual tradition that we have because I love to show the kids where food really comes from. This gives them an appreciation for healthy foods and shows them how food goes from the garden to our plates. We pick the peaches off the trees and then go home and make a fresh cobbler, peach bread and peach ice cream. Yum!

I’m glad that I’m passing on my love for peaches to my kids because peaches are full of nutrients including, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, carotene and potassium. Peaches are low in calories, but full of fiber, which is great for the waistline! Peaches also have beta-cryptoxanthin, a carotenoid with anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. And according to Diet Health Club peaches can actually destroy extra fat layers, making them an excellent weight loss tool. 

There are so many choices of peach recipes that I struggled with which one to share with you. So, I thought I’d share the two recipes that I make with my kids each year after we pick a fresh bussel of peaches. These two recipes are my favorite because I’ve adapted them to have less sugar, calories and fat, making them a guilt-free treat. 

Light Peach Ice Cream

Ingredients

  • 3  cups  sliced peeled peaches (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • cup  half-and-half
  • 1/2  cup  sugar
  • 1/2  cup  skim milk
  • 1 Tsp teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract

Instructions

  • Place chunks of peaches in a food processor and blend until finely chopped, but still some chunks remain.
  • Combine peaches and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Pour peach mixture into the freezer can of an ice-cream freezer. Follow the instructions for your particular ice cream maker on how to make the ice cream; usually involves putting ice and rock salt in the container. 

Stacy’s Light Peach Crisp

Ingredients 

  • 5  cups  sliced peeled peaches
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ¼ cup brown sugar Splenda
  • Dash of salt
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ cup sugar-free applesauce

Instructions

  • Combine oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and applesauce in a bowl.
  • Place peaches in a baking dish. Sprinkle the oat mixture over the peaches.
  • Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.