Category Archives: Healthy Holiday Habits

Healthy Holidays: The Easter Basket Editions – Let’s make Peeps!

Homemade Easter Peeps, Healthier Easter Basket IdeasWe know you secretly love them even now as an adult. They’re probably one of the first things that come to mind when you hear the word Easter. And they undoubtedly bring to mind images of the Easter baskets of your childhood.

Of course, we’re talking about Peeps. Yellow Peeps. Blue Peeps. Green Peeps. Purple Peeps. Peeps shaped like ducks. Peeps shaped like bunnies. They were possibly the sweetest Easter treat of all.

Alas, if only Peeps were actually as good for us as the memories they evoke. To be honest, they’re pretty bad. Here’s the ingredient list:

Sugar, Corn Syrup, Gelatin, Contains less than 0.50.5% of Potassium Sorbate, Flavor(s) Artificial, Yellow 5, Carnauba Wax

O.k. Peeps are marshmallows, so we expect for them to contain a lot of sugar. Until you get past the fourth ingredient, Peeps are just a treat. Then we get to the artificial flavors and color. And the Carnauba wax — which we more commonly associate with polishing our cars, not food.

Can you still give your kids the pleasure of Easter Peeps without the bad ingredients? Can you still enjoy sneaking a Peep during the Easter season? FoodFacts.com thinks you can. Just make marshmallows!

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 cup water
3 tbsns gelatin
2 cups organic white sugar
Coconut oil
Natural food coloring (such as India Tree)

Here’s what you’ll do:

Place 1/2 cup of the water in a large bowl and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over it.. Let it sit for a few minutes.

Put the sugar and the other 1/2 cup of water in a small pot and bring to a boil while stirring.

Once the mixture is a rolling boil (or 242F with a candy thermometer), pour the hot sugar water mixture over the gelatin/water mixture and beat with an electric mixer for about 10 minutes until the combined mixture turns into marshmallow with peaks. Add food coloring in the amount required amount to achieve desired color while whipping the marshmallow mixture.

Pour the mixture into a 9X13 glass dish that has been coated with some coconut oil. Let it sit out for several hours until firm (about 12 hours).

Remove marshmallow from dish in one large piece and cut out desired peeps shapes small cookie cutters.

While we can’t exactly call them healthy, let’s remember they are a seasonal treat. A little holiday indulgence made with ingredients you know and trust is a far better alternative to the store bought tradition that includes some rather unsavory ingredients. Homemade Peeps in your Easter baskets help make sure you’ll know what’s really in your kids Easter treats.  You can even sneak a treat for yourself and feel a lot better about it!

Healthy Holidays: The Easter Basket Editions

Easter basket.jpgAs we finally say goodbye to winter, we’re getting ready to welcome springtime holiday traditions. We’re planning our brunches, dinners and egg hunts. And all the while our favorite and famous Bunny is figuring out how to adorn the Easter baskets millions of kids can’t wait to tear into.

We know that in the last few decades, toys have taken the place of at least some of the candy in those baskets. We also know that many parents are cringing over the anticipation of all that Easter candy. While it isn’t exactly Halloween, it’s still pretty much all about the candy for so many. Hence, the proliferation of creme eggs, peanut butter eggs, Peeps, assorted pastel jelly beans, and hollow chocolate bunnies in our stores this time of year.

If you’re looking for a healthier addition to your Easter baskets, FoodFacts.com wants to offer a little help and inspiration, without removing the candy from the equation. Everyone loves Easter treats, but when you look at the ingredient lists for many of them, there’s plenty you’ll find to be concerned about. So if you have some extra time and are feeling a bit creative, we’ve got some ideas for you.

Let’s make some peanut butter eggs for our baskets this year. They look great. They’re quite tasty. And the ingredient list is straight-forward and clean.

Here’s what you’ll need:

- Quarter cup of organic peanut butter
- Quarter cup of sugar
- 2 tbsp. good quality cocoa powder
- 2 tbsp. coconut oil
- 2 tsp. maple syrup

Here’s what you’ll do:

Mix together the peanut butter and powdered sugar in a bowl until it has a crumbled texture. Make sure your peanut butter is at room temperature so that it mixes easily. Shape the dough into flat ovals or rounded egg shapes. You should be able to form 9 eggs from the recipe. After you’ve formed the shapes, freeze them for about an hour.

Melt the coconut oil and mix it in a dish with the cocoa powder. Add the maple syrup and combine. Dip one frozen egg at a time in the chocolate to coat. Return the chocolate coated eggs to the freezer immediately to harden. You’ll want to store them in the freezer before serving (or decorating Easter baskets), so that they retain their shape and don’t melt.

They’re easy to make and a much healthier treat than the popular version, which typically contain partially hydrogenated oil and TBHQ in their ingredient list. In addition, that popular version weighs in at 180 calories with 16 grams of sugar for one egg.

This homemade version contains about 55 calories per egg with almost 4 grams of sugar. One store bought peanut butter egg contains 4 teaspoons of sugar. One peanut butter egg from this recipe contains just about 1 teaspoon. That’s a substantial difference we can all be happy about.

We all love a sweet treat now and again. With a little effort and some real ingredients, we can all enjoy a little indulgence in a much healthier way! Stay tuned for more healthy Easter basket options from FoodFacts.com as we approach the holiday.

Shamrock Shakes from McDonald’s … did you get yours this St. Patrick’s Day?

366305547,366305548,366305549.jpgWe were wondering … and if you did, do you know what was in it?

It’s an unmistakable concoction. The Shamrock Shake is bright green (a little too bright for our taste here at FoodFacts.com). One look and you know for certain that this is a St. Patrick’s Day specialty, of the same order of the green beer and green eggs and ham sold at local pubs all around the country to celebrate this particularly festive holiday when everyone experiences some good Irish cheer.

So in case you did run into your local McDonald’s and grab one, we thought we’d take some time to tell you exactly what you consumed. It isn’t pretty (even if you really like the shade of green featured in your cup).

We’ll begin with the ingredient list:

Ice Cream Reduced Fat (Milk, Sugar, Cream, Milk Nonfat Solids, Corn Syrup Solids, Mono and Diglycerides, Guar Gum, Dextrose, Sodium Citrate, Flavors Artificial Vanilla, Sodium Phosphate, Carrageenan, Disodium Phosphate, Cellulose Gum, Vitamin A Palmitate) ,Syrup (Corn Syrup High Fructose, Corn Syrup, Water, Sugar, Flavors Natural, Xanthan Gum, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Yellow 5, Blue 1) , Cream Whipped (Cream, Milk Nonfat, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Corn Syrup High Fructose, Contains 1% or less of the following: [Mono and Diglycerides, Carrageenan, Polysorbate 80, Beta Carotene,Flavoring Artificial and Natural, Tocopherols Mixed Vitamin E] ) , Cherries Maraschino(Cherries, Water, Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup High Fructose, Sugar, Malic Acid, Citric Acid,Flavoring Artificial and Natural, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, Red 40,Sulphur Sulfur Dioxide [Contains Sulfite] )

To save you from actually having to count the ingredients, there are 54 of them. Seems a bit heavy handed to us for one shake. To make matters even worse, 20 of those ingredients are controversial. And that bright green color that qualifies it as a “Shamrock Shake,” that’s Yellow 5 and Blue 1. We’d like to point out that while the shake is green, there’s no such thing as Shamrock flavor, so we’re not exactly sure what McDonald’s was going for here. At least the Irish Creme coffees from Dunkin Donuts are trying to simulate Irish Creme flavor. This is just a green shake with bad ingredients.

The nutrition facts for the Shamrock Shake are no better. Let’s take a look at the 16 oz. medium size shake:

Calories:                             660
Fat:                                      19 g
Saturated Fat:                   12 g
Cholesterol:                       75 mg
Sugar:                                 93 g

Yes, you read that right. There are 93 g of sugar in a medium Shamrock Shake. That’s 23.5 TEASPOONS OF SUGAR. Wow! The World Health Organization wants us to limit sugar intake to 6 teaspoons a day. So one medium Shamrock Shake is almost 4 DAYS worth of sugar intake.

If you treated yourself to a Shamrock Shake this St. Patrick’s Day, you might want to count your sugar grams carefully for the remainder of the week. If you didn’t have one, don’t feel badly about missing out on McDonald’s once a year green “treat.” Oh, and either way, next year, you can find plenty of other, far better treats to indulge in for a little Erin Go Bragh. Sometimes we can take a sweet treat much too far!

http://www.foodfacts.com/ci/nutritionfacts/DessertsShakes/McDonalds-McCafe-McShamrock-Shake-Medium-16-fl-oz/91918

Holiday Cheer: Buche De Noel Edition

The big day is upon us!  The house is decorated, the tree is lit, the presents are wrapped and the meal planning is well underway!  FoodFacts.com wanted to make sure that we showcase one of our favorite courses from the holiday feast – dessert!

No matter what your tradition, dessert will certainly play a big role in tomorrow’s meal.  And many home chefs look forward to putting their skills to work in the creation of a beautiful and tasty Buche de Noel (or Yule Log).  These cakes can truly be works of art – and banquets of holiday flavor.  Unfortunately as beautiful and flavorful as the cake may be, it’s also very rich and typically packs a big punch in the fat and sugar categories.  The traditional recipe for Buche de Noel contains:

Calories: 276
Fat: 17.7g
Saturated Fat: 10.4g
Sugar: 22.9g

We’re pretty sure we can do better, while still keeping this beautiful cake moist, flavorful and fun.

For the cake, you’ll need:

  • 5 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoon(s) unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoon(s) organic vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup(s) whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup(s) cake flour, sifted
  • 1/4 cup(s) unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 2/3 cup(s) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) salt

For the filling and frosting, you’ll need

  • Organic Agave nectar
  • 1 tablespoon(s) instant espresso powder or coffee granules
  • 4 teaspoon(s) dried egg whites (see Tips), reconstituted according to package directions (equivalent to 2 egg whites)
  • 1/4 tspn creme of tartar
  • 1/4 tspn salt
  • 1 tspn vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup(s) brewed coffee, room temperature or cold
  • 1/4 cup(s) organic half-and-half

 

Directions

  1. Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a large (12-by-16 1/2-inch) rimmed baking sheet (half sheet pan) with parchment paper; coat the paper and pan sides with cooking spray. Place eggs (in the shell) in a stand mixer bowl or large mixing bowl, add warm tap water, and set aside to warm the eggs and bowl.
  2. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, swirling occasionally, until the white flecks of milk solids in the bottom of the pan start to turn golden brown, 4 to 8 minutes. Scrape into a medium bowl. Let cool to room temperature, then add 2 teaspoons vanilla. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk whole-wheat flour, cake flour, and 1/4 cup cocoa in a medium bowl; set aside.
  4. Drain the water and break the eggs into the warmed mixing bowl. Add sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until thick and pale light yellow, 5 to 15 minutes (depending on the power of your mixer). To test if it’s beaten well enough, lift the beater from the batter: as the batter falls off the beater into the bowl, it should mound for a moment on the surface.
  5. Gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture with a whisk, in two additions, until just incorporated. Gently fold about 1 cup of the batter into the reserved butter. Then gently fold the butter mixture into the bowl of batter with a whisk until just incorporated, being careful not to overmix. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared baking sheet, spreading completely to the sides.
  6. Bake the cake until puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 8 to 12 minutes. Cool in the pan on a large wire rack for 10 minutes. Gently run a knife around the edges and turn the cake out onto the rack; remove the parchment and let cool completely. Once cool, cover with 2 overlapping pieces of plastic wrap and a clean, damp kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out. (The cake can be held this way for up to 4 hours before assembling the Yule Log.)
  7. To prepare filling and frosting: Bring 2 inches of water to a simmer in the bottom of a double boiler. Combine agave nectar, instant coffee, reconstituted egg whites, cream of tartar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in the top of the double boiler. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Place over the simmering water and beat on high speed until the frosting is glossy and has the texture of very thick shaving cream, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla until just combined.
  8. Leaving the towel and plastic wrap over the cake, invert it onto a work surface with a long edge nearest you. The towel will now be on the bottom, with the plastic wrap directly beneath the cake. Combine coffee and half-and-half in a small bowl. Brush the top of the cake with the coffee mixture; let it soak in and continue brushing on more until all of it is absorbed.
  9. Spread about two-thirds of the frosting evenly over the cake. Using the plastic wrap, lift the long edge and roll the cake into a log lengthwise. Cut a 3 to 4-inch “branch” off one end at an angle. Place the longer log on a serving platter, seam-side down. Use a little frosting to attach the branch to the main log. Cover the cake and branch with the remaining frosting. Make decorative ridges in the frosting with a fork to resemble bark. Let the cake stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Or refrigerate, uncovered, for up to 1 day.

Here’s how the nutrition facts stack up for the revamped recipe:

Calories:  178
Fat: 5g
Saturated Fat: 3g
Sugar: 8g

 

That’s a pretty significant difference.  It’s important to remember, especially around the holidays, that we can enjoy our favorite meals – and desserts.  We can all find lighter versions of much-loved traditional foods that don’t sacrifice flavor and will help to make our holidays happy and memorable!

FoodFacts.com wishes everyone in our community the happiest of holidays and a healthy and prosperous new year!

Holiday Cheer: Party Snack Mix Edition

Most of us have more than a few gatherings of family and friends coming up. And some of those gatherings are planned in our own homes where we’ll be preparing the food for our guests. During most of these events, we’re likely to put out some appetizers and snacks for our guests to enjoy with a holiday cocktail or beverage as we’re putting the finishing touches on the meal.

What will you be serving prior to your dinner? For many of us here at FoodFacts.com, party snack mixes are a big hit with guests. These snacks tend to be a combination of salty and sweet goodies that are easy to pick up and eat while sipping a drink. And snack mixes also offer the advantage of convenience for many party hosts.

Generally FoodFacts.com associates convenience with problems like bad ingredients, or too much fat, or too much salt – or all or any combination of those three issues. And party snack mix is no exception to that rule. Here’s a typical ingredient list for a mainstream brand of party snack mix:

Flour Enriched (Wheat Flour, Barley Malted Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid (Vitamin aB)) , Corn Meal Degermed Yellow, Wheat Whole, Vegetable(s) Oil (Soybean(s), Rice Bran and/or, Canola) , Flour Bleached Enriched (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid (Vitamin aB)) , Soybean(s) Oil Partially Hydrogenated, Sugar, Contains 22% or less Salt, Monosodium Glutamate, Maltodextrin, Rye Flour, Yeast, Garlic Powder, Corn Syrup Solids, Corn Syrup High Fructose, Margarine (Soybean(s) Oil Partially Hydrogenated, Salt, Mono and Diglycerides, Soy Lecithin, Whey, Beta Carotene, Vitamin A Palmitate, Flavor(s) Natural) , Malt, Baking Soda, Barley Malt Extract, Corn Syrup, Flavor(s) Natural & Artificial, Malt Syrup, Spice(s), Soy Lecithin, Milk Non-Fat Cultured, Sodium Diacetate, Onion(s) Powder, Almond(s) Flour, BHT To Retain Freshness, Calcium Carbonate, Color(s) Added, Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Inosinate, Monoglyceride Distilled, Garlic, Molasses, Monocalcium Phosphate, Peanut(s) Flour, Sesame Seed(s), Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Soy Sauce (Wheat, Soybean(s), Salt, Maltodextrin, Caramel Color) , Tamarind Extract, Trisodium Phosphate, Wheat Starch, Whey, Corn Flour Yellow

One half cup (the serving size) of that same mix contains:
Calories: 140
Fat: 6g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Sodium 390mg

At first glance that really doesn’t seem so bad. But considering the serving size, we’re pretty sure that most of our guests are going to consume more calories, fat and sodium than this suggests. We can definitely do better preparing a party snack mix ourselves with less ingredients that are better choices while we lighten up on the calories, fat and sodium.

Ingredients
• 4 cups organic squares cereal (such as Cascadian Farm or Nature’s Path)
• 2 cups organic mini pretzels (such as Shiloh Farms)
• 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
• 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
• 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
• 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 teaspoon organic Worcestershire sauce

To Prepare
• Preheat oven to 350°F.
• Mix cereals, pretzels, Parmesan, garlic salt, onion powder, pepper and cayenne in a large bowl. Toss with oil and Worcestershire. Spread on a lightly oiled baking sheet.
• Bake, stirring often, until toasted, 40 minutes.

Here are the nutrition facts for every half cup of this snack mix your guests will enjoy:

Calories: 61
Fat: 2g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Sodium: 189mg

In addition to lightening up the obvious problems, this party snack mix doesn’t contain any partially hydrogenated oil, MSG, caramel color, hidden MSG or artificial flavor.

Enjoy good food for the holidays. Offer your guests the flavor and goodness that comes from your kitchen – that includes the snacks and appetizers. They’ll appreciate your efforts – and enjoy indulging on treats that are better for them from the ingredients to the calories, fat and sodium!

Holiday Cheer: Honey Baked Ham Edition

Next week, millions of families will sit down to a wonderful holiday feast. There are so many traditions for that feast that it’s often difficult to zero in on one main dish that defines the meal. Often our heritage comes into play when planning our feast. Folks of different ethnic backgrounds have different dishes that play a starring role at the table. But the honey baked ham is a common superstar for a variety of reasons.

First, there are plenty of servings in the average five pound ham. Second, most holiday ham recipes don’t require a lot of fuss to prepare, allowing the cook to attend to other, more detailed dishes that will inevitably involve more time and effort. And third, most folks view ham as a “healthier” meal option – which it can be if you’re careful. Unfortunately, most traditional recipes for honey baked ham leave much to be desired in terms of nutrition facts.

Because FoodFacts.com is sensitive when it comes to the ingredients in our foods, ham can be a “touchy subject” for us. Right out of the gate, we’ll say that unless the ham is uncured, we’d rather stay away from it. But even an uncured ham prepared in the traditional manner won’t leave you much room for the rest of the feast. Let’s take a quick look …

Each five ounce serving of traditional honey baked ham contains about:

Calories: 520
Fat:          28.3g
Sodium: 1492 mg — more than half the average adult’s daily recommended intake in one serving!
Sugar:     38.6g – that’s over 9 teaspoons of sugar per serving

We want to be able to enjoy our entire meal – not just the main event. Nutrition facts like this make that difficult to do. What about the mashed potatoes, the vegetable dishes and the desserts?

We can definitely do better with this holiday feast superstar! It will be just as tasty and satisfying and save you and your guests a tremendous amount of calories, fat, sodium and sugar. Most importantly, it will leave you some room to indulge in the other dishes sure to be crowding your holiday table.

Ingredients

One five pound, bone in, uncured spiral ham
¼ cup pineapple juice
¼ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon orange juice

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Place ham, cut end down, in a large 13 x 9 pan.
3. In a small bowl, mix together pineapple juice and orange juice. Spoon 2 tablespoons over ham. Bake ham for 5 minutes. Remove from oven drizzle 2 more tablespoons all over ham. Bake for an additional 5 minutes and spoon the remaining juices over the ham. Remove ham from oven.
4. In another bowl, mix together brown sugar, honey and 1 tablespoon of orange juice.
Brush over ham. Place ham back in oven and bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes.

While this requires a bit more attention (and a lot less sugar) than traditional recipes, you’ll be quite happy with the results. And you’ll be even happier when you take a look at the nutrition facts for a five ounce serving:

Calories: 165
Fat:          10.5g
Sodium: 785 mg.
Sugar:     5g

We’re really happy with the difference here! FoodFacts.com knows that with a little careful thought and preparation, we can all make our holiday meals a healthier experience without sacrificing flavor or giving up traditional favorites. We all expect a great feast to be indulgent, but we’d rather not be paying for that indulgence for weeks to come! With recipes like this we can satisfy our cravings with much less concern. Stay tuned for more Holiday Cheer from FoodFacts.com. We promise, we won’t forget dessert!

Staying healthy during the holidays

Our holiday focus zeroes in on our tendency to overindulge at this time of year. Please don’t get us wrong … FoodFacts.com loves treating ourselves during this season just as much as anyone else! Snacks … cookies … desserts … specialty cocktails … the pleasures of the season are plentiful … and we’re certainly not going to tell you not to indulge.

But we are going to tell you that it would be beneficial to indulge intelligently. What’s your strategy for staying healthy during the holidays? You really do need to have one so that you can fully enjoy the season without guilt … or repercussions. So we’re sharing some tips we can all use during the holiday festivities that will help us keep on track, even though we are happy to enjoy the many opportunities on hand to indulge.

Don’t forget about water …
Let’s make sure that we keep drinking water during holidays. More than 50 percent of the human body is made of water. Bodies need water to function and you don’t want to dehydrate. Dehydration means your metabolism coming to a grinding halt and increasing your body’s inflammation levels, often resulting in weight loss resistance. By the time you realize you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Drink a large glass of water when you wake up. Always have water on hand to sip throughout the day. Water can help you feel fuller, longer and help your body process the foods you’re eating. It’s important all year long … but right now, it’s more important than it usually is.

Make sure you get enough sleep
The season is all about parties … and some of them can run late. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll be craving bad food in the morning. Missing one night’s sleep can throw your fat-burning hormones for a loop. When you finally do wake up, your body will be asking you for foods you normally wouldn’t be eating – things with too much fat, sugar and salt. Especially during this time of year, you need at least seven hours of real sleep every night. If you make sure you get it, you’ll have a happier holiday season.

Don’t forget your exercise
We’re all really busy this time of year. Make sure you don’t interrupt your exercise routine. It’s really not o.k. to neglect it. Work out on your regular schedule, no matter what you need to do to make that happen. Remember, you’re eating and drinking more right now than during other times of the year.

There’s a lot of stress during the holidays
We have to buy gifts, go to parties, make phone calls, see family, maybe we need to get on a plane or a train or a bus … scheduling is difficult (at best). Then we’re consuming more caffeine, more alcohol, more sugar and more salt. Mix that all together and your cortisol level is going to be higher than it is all year. Cortisol is the stress hormone and when its levels are higher in your body, you’re going to be storing more fat. What’s your go-to stress relief method? Meditation, yoga, exercise, walking, deep breathing???? Whatever you do, do more of it until after the new year.

Make sure to eat your daily fiber
Fiber slows stomach emptying, dials down your hunger hormone ghrelin, balances blood sugar, and reduces cravings so you’re less likely to eat bad food. The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention recommend a daily intake of fiber of 25 to 35 grams for adults. During this season of overindulgence, make sure you eat your daily fiber requirements with high-fiber foods … berries, lentil, leafy greens, nuts and seeds.

Enjoy your holiday! Eat what you’d like to eat, drink what you’d like to drink and have a wonderful season! You can do all of that without sacrificing your healthy lifestyle! Keep track and stay smart and active. None of us indulges 24 hours a day. Make those other hours count for your health and well being. Then you won’t have to miss out on anything.