It's no secret that I try to eat healthy.
But, there's only so much time in the morning to prepare something that's as tasty as it is healthy.
And I'm no saint. I love chocolate, but I have to keep it far away from my kitchen cupboards. There's no way I can stop at a tiny square of a dark chocolate bar.
And in the evening, when I'm watching TV or a video, I sometimes want something tastier than an apple for a snack. I want a little crunch. And yes, a bit of salt. A tiny bit.
This is going to sound crazy, but these three simple, delicious, time-saving food tweaks have made my mornings a breeze, brought me a mid-day boost, and satisfied my snack cravings at night. You've got to give them a try!
And the best part. Each of these foods comes with impeccable research credentials. But frankly, they taste so good, I wouldn't care if they didn't.
1. Steel cut oats. Put up a double-batch of crock-pot fruited steel cut oatmeal on Sunday night, and have breakfast ready-to-go all week.
2. Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate. Late afternoon or in the evening make my gourmet Mexican cocoa with cayenne & cinnamon & you won't miss high-cal chocolate bars.
3. Popcorn. Get yourself a hot-air popcorn popper, and hit the popcorn with 4 or 5 sprays of canola or olive oil and as it fills up a huge bowl--sprinkle with a few shakes of super-fine popcorn salt, and you won't miss the microwave or oil-made popcorn at all.
Overnight Crock-Pot Fruited Steel Cut Oatmeal
After making this oatmeal for months, it finally dawned on me that if I doubled the recipe, I'd have enough for breakfast 7 mornings a week--in a microwave minute!
If you are used to making steel cut oats on the stove, let me tell you--the taste doesn't even come close to the crockpot version that slowly cooks for 8 hours.
As for the health benefits--Dr. David Jenkins' 2008 JAMA study found that high fiber low-glycemic foods--like steel-cut oats--were superior to even whole grains, like whole-wheat bread and brown rice when it comes to keeping the blood sugar stable.
Stable blood sugar not only keeps you full, is great for preventing type-2 diabetes, but it also prevents the kind of spikes that damage the dentate gyrus--the memory center of the brain. Click here
And for added measure throw in the benefits of the soluble fiber of oatmeal that removes damaging cholesterol--and the dried fruit that is great for bone health. If you're scratching your head over the fruit-thing--read Dr. Amy Lanou's research.
And here's a new one to me. Oatmeal also enhances the body's immune system, is anti-inflammatory, and has more protein than most cereals. (according to Jonny Bowden, Ph.D. in The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth)
My Creamy Crock-Pot Oatmeal with Lots of Dried Fruit enough for 7-8 servings.
Cooker: 3 quart
Setting and Cook Time: Low for 8-9 hours.
1 1/2 cups steel-cut oats
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries
1/4 cup dried currants
1 tsp. Trader Joe's pumpkin or apple pie seasoning (or a little cinnamon & nutmeg)
5 1/2 cups water
1 cup almond, hazelnut or soy milk
1. Lightly spray your cooker with cooking oil spray to prevent sticking.
2. Combine all the ingredients in the slow cooker. Mix up well. Cover and cook on LOW for 8-9 hours, until thick & creamy.
3. Wake up to delicious cooked oatmeal. The smell is amazing! Refrigerate the leftovers for later in the week. Just scoop out a serving from the the fridge & microwave for a couple of minutes.
A happy oatmeal surprise. My entire life I've never eaten breakfast first thing in the morning. I'd get up at six, and never eat breakfast until 8:30 or 9. With this oatmeal I've started to eat breakfast first thing in the morning, and to my surprise, I'm actually less hungry throughout the entire day. It keeps me full and energetic until lunch-time. I can't explain that one!
Spicy Sweet Mexican Hot Chocolate
About 3 years ago my husband, my college friend Babs, and I went to New York City chocolate shop called The Chocolate Bar and indulged in hot chocolate with chili peppers. I loved it! So, a couple months ago when I spotted this Aztec Hot Chocolate Mix at Whole Foods I decided to give it a try. Of course it was delicious, but who needed the sugar in it? Certainly not me.
I decided to try my hand at making my own, and it tasted even better. I tested it on my non-hot-chocolate drinking 26 year-old son & husband, and they both gave it a big thumbs up.
And the health benefits are almost too good to be true!
- Cocoa powder lowers inflammation, increases HDLs, and has the potential to slow or prevent atherosclerosis. This comes from straight from a 2009 Spanish study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Cocoa has more flavonoids than tea or red wine and they improve lipid profiles and insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure (click here), reduce platelet activity, and keep the lining of blood vessels flexible and healthy.
- In a 12 week study the skin of women drinking a daily cup of cocoa containing 2 TBS of high-flavonoid cocoa powder was significantly smoother, retained more moisture, and had better circulation. Click here for the article
- Cocoa gives you all the benefits of chocolate without the fat & calories. Dr. Susan Kleiner, author of the Good Mood Diet is a big fan of drinking hot cocoa in the evening.
- Drinking 8-10 ounces of hot cocoa fills up your tummy far better than 1 ounce of chocolate can, and nips hunger in the bud.
- Cayenne pepper contains a phytochemical called capsaicin that's linked to weight loss, pain relief, & cardiovascular health. A 2009 Danish study even confirmed that it suppresses appetite by creating feelings of satiety.
- Cinnamon is known to lower blood glucose and LDL cholesterol.
Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate Serves one
1 heaping TBS. of high quality non-dutched (it retains the flavonoids) unsweetened cocoa. I like Ghiradelli's, & Scharffen Berger's
1 packet of stevia (I like Stevia in the Raw) or sweetener of your choice
1 tiny (or not so tiny) pinch of cayenne powder. The best way to do this is to shake some in the palm of your hand and then pinch some.
A few shakes of cinnamon
About a tablespoon of very hot water
1 1/4 cups of hazelnut, almond, or soy milk *Note: my taste tests show that Pacific brand's Hazelnut milk makes the best-tasting Mexican hot cocoa. The almond milk just didn't have the depth of taste.
Mix the cocoa, stevia, and spices in a nice-sized mug. Add some very hot water and mix it all up.
Add the milk and mix. A tiny whisk works great for this.
Microwave until nice and warm.
A happy cocoa surprise. This is so satisfying as a late afternoon snack or an evening dessert. I was completely surprised at how tasty and satisfying this cocoa can be, and I'm not even missing chocolate.
Hot-Air Popper Popcorn
About 6 months ago I decided to pick up an Orville Redenbacher Hot Air Popcorn Popper for $20 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond with a 20% off coupon.
Frankly, I ditched my original hot air popper in the 70's because the popcorn it made was so bland. But, my friend Howie told me about his technique of grinding up salt in a coffee grinder to get a powdery mix that sticks just fine to the popcorn if you spray it a few times with canola or olive oil spray.
Then my husband perfected the whole technique, and he picked up some Morton Super Fine Popcorn Salt, so we could ditch the "grinding step".
Here's the Snack-Maven's technique
1. Measure 1/4 or 1/2 cup of popcorn & pour it into your popper
2. Use the largest bowl you have--and if it has a lid it's a plus for better "salt distribution"
3. As the popped corn starts to fill the bowl spray it with a quick shot of "oil spray", and then a quick shake of the salt. We usually end up with about 5 sprays and 5 shakes. I actually measured out how much salt comes out, and it ends up less than 140 mgs of salt, which is 6% of your daily recommended intake--and that's if you eat a whole bowl yourself.
4. If you have a lid, give the bowl a nice shake.
Six cups of hot-air popcorn is about 120 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, and 10% iron.
- Rich in insoluble fiber to keep your digestive system moving
- Eating 3 cups of air-popped popcorn (not microwaved) twice a week can reduce your risk of diverticular disease by 28%. Click here for the study
- Popcorn has THE HIGHEST LEVELS of healthy antioxidants of all whole grain snack foods. Click here for the study
Happy popcorn surprise: Who knew how satisfying and tasty hot-air popped popcorn could be--not to mention how healthy it is.