Eating Seasonally

Pears with mother and son

You may have heard mention of the importance of eating seasonally, but what does that mean and why does it matter? Eating produce when it is in season is not a new idea, in fact, it was the norm before industrialized agriculture and giant grocery stores. The general idea is that we eat foods when they are naturally harvested, such as berries in the summer and pears starting in the fall. The nutritional benefit is that seasonal fruits and vegetables tend to pack more nutrients and richer flavors than foods that should ripen before being harvested or during shipment. And in this way, seasonal foods tend to be cheaper and less damaging to the environment. An interesting fact about pears is that optimal ripening actually occurs after being harvested and cold storage, and therefore, they are available nearly year-round!

So which fruits and vegetables should I eat now? Interestingly, autumn is the season when the most produce is harvested, including pears, apples, grapes, persimmons, kale, broccoli, squash, and brussels sprouts. Check out SNAP-Ed for a more detailed list to get your mouth watering! Try adding fresh seasonal produce to recipes for added flavor and texture. On a side note, since canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are picked during their peak seasons, these are also excellent choices as additions to your dishes. Look for products without added sauces and fruits packed in juice to limit added sugars. Happy eating!

For more information, visit the American Heart Association.

Three Reasons & Ways to PEAR More Often This School Year

By Ashley Koff RD*

An apple for the teacher? Why not a pear?! I love pears, so I get especially excited during this time of year. Pear season is kicking off (look for Bartletts, Red Bartletts and Starkrimsons!), and before I share some of my favorite ways to enjoy pears, I thought I would tell you a little about the nutritional benefits of this healthy, in-season fruit.

  1. Pears pack fiber – If you are trying to improve your fiber intake,** then pears are your better choice. A medium pear provides about 6 grams, which is a great way to help you meet your daily fiber goals. Plus, fiber helps you feel full and satisfied longer, so when it comes to smart snacking, fiber is a must.
  2. Pears have excellent skin – with pears it’s best to eat the skin for the better nutrition win! Rich in a variety of plant compounds like flavonoids, as well as providing fiber, I recommend enjoying your pear skin and all!
  3. Pears offer variety – different flavors, colors and textures for different dishes means there are so many ways to bring pears into your better nutrition plan more often.

So, with all that good news here are some of my favorite ways to snack on pears – perfect to help power parents and kids through the new school year:

Slice ‘em up and use them as “toast” or “crackers” for a better nutrition upgrade more often.

  • I love topping mine with nut butter, delicious spices (like turmeric) and cacao nibs for extra crunch (see my photo).
  • Take slices, add nut butter or cheese or dairy-free nut cheese and make mini sandwiches to take with you as an easy midday better nutrition pit stop and a great after school or pre-workout snack.

Pear Egg Boats

  • Halve a pear, scoop out a little space in the center, add an egg and bake/broil.
  • Top with cayenne pepper and/or a pinch of sea salt. Share on Instagram or just eat it on up J

Dice ‘n Swap

  • Move over croutons, pear cubes just took your salad from a 50 to 100% delicious and packed with better nutrition.
  • You can roll your pear cubes in oil and some spices and bake them for a different taste.

Pear Dippers

  • Slice firm pears lengthwise to make dippers
  • Dip in yogurt, hummus, and even chocolate (oh and you can freeze these too for an awesome bite later on!).

*Ashley Koff RD is a raving fan of pears (I love writing about myself in the third person 😉 but I am also told its proper for legal disclosures). She is a paid sponsor for this post by USA Pears

** Adults need >25g fiber minimum daily and many of you are not hitting that number often enough. How do you know if you are meeting your better fiber needs? Try the Better Fiber Evaluation to assess your current fiber nutrition intake and needs.

Grilled Pear and Lamb Flatbreads

pear and ground lamb flatbread with fresh mint

Pears and meat are a winning combination. We often think of pork and chicken with fruit, but let’s not overlook lamb. That robust flavor is deliciously complemented by sweet, aromatic charred pears hot off the grill, and both partner perfectly with Middle Eastern flavors. Here we have a complete meal cooked almost entirely on the grill. A very simple dough is rolled out to make homemade flatbreads that get cooked right on the grill, and then topped with sliced grilled pears and red onions, spiced ground lamb, charred halloumi cheese, and an addictive yogurt-tahini sauce. Think of these flatbreads as a pizza of sorts, perfect for a patio party, and they’re as delicious hot as they are at room temperature.

Serves 6

Dough
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup plain yogurt (not Greek)

Toppings
1 cup yogurt
1/3 cup tahini sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large garlic clove, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 pound ground lamb
1 1/2 teaspoons ground fennel seed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes
3 USA Green Bartlett Pears, halved, cored, and cut into 8 wedges each
1 red onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick disks (each layer kept together)
8 ounces halloumi cheese, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slabs
Pine nuts, for topping
Handful torn mint leaves, for topping

To make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk the flours, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Add the yogurt and fold it in with a rubber spatula, just until blended. Dump the dough onto a work surface dusted generously with flour. Knead the dough gently until smooth, about 30 seconds, then cut it into 6 equal portions. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll each portion of dough into an imperfect oval, about 1/8-inch thick. Add more flour to the surface or the pin as needed, as the dough will be rather sticky. On a large baking sheet, stack the dough between sheets of parchment paper, and cover loosely with plastic wrap while you prepare the toppings and preheat the grill, or for up to 1 hour.

To make the toppings: In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then cover and set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the lamb, fennel seed, cumin, coriander, chile flakes, and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and several grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid has evaporated, and the lamb browns and becomes slightly crispy in the rendered fat, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Prepare a fire in a charcoal or gas grill. For charcoal, when the coals are ready, distribute them and preheat the grate. Wait until they’ve reached medium-high heat, or when you can hold your palm about 3 inches above the grill grate for 3 to 5 seconds. If using a gas grill, preheat on high, covered, for about 15 minutes, then adjust the burners as needed throughout cooking.

Brush the pears, red onion, and halloumi with a light coating of olive oil, and season the pears and onions with salt and pepper. Arrange them on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until all are tender and nicely charred on both sides, 5 to 7 minutes for the pears and halloumi, and 8 to 10 minutes for the onions. Remove the toppings from the grill as they are done and collect them on a large rimmed baking sheet.

Brush the grill grates clean. Grill the flatbreads, two or three at a time, until puffy and charred in spots, 1 to 2 minutes per side.

To assemble the flatbreads, top each with a generous smear of the yogurt spread, dividing it evenly. Pull apart the onion rings and tear the halloumi and divide them amongst the flatbreads. Scatter the lamb over the top, followed by the pears and pine nuts. Finish with the mint leaves. Cut the flatbreads into triangle-shaped slices and serve warm or at room temperature.

Beat the Heat!

Creamy pear popsicles with chunks of kiwi and yellow sticks

Summer is my favorite season, because of the social gatherings, barbecues, picnics, and summer treats that satisfy my sweet tooth. I pay attention to my calorie intake carefully – especially during the hot summer when cold, decadent treats are everywhere. So, what is a dietitian to do? Make popsicles, of course! Anything that can be made into juice or a smoothie can also be made into a delicious popsicle that fulfills that sweet craving, cools you off, and packs in nutrients without unnecessary calories.

Making popsicles is very easy, in fact it’s a fun activity for the whole family. And you don’t need any molds or special equipment, paper cups and popsicle sticks will suffice. For this method, place the cups on a tray, fill them ¾ full, cover the cups with saran wrap, and press the sticks through to keep them in place. Once frozen, just peel off the paper cup. No blender? No problem! Slice or dice fruit into small pieces, place in molds or paper cups, and fill cups ¾ full with juice.

So, what makes a delicious popsicle? I skip the added sugar and go straight to the fruit. A basic recipe might be a sliced, cored, ripe pear blended with enough water to make smoothie consistency. I like the sweetness and texture of blended Bartlett or very ripe Anjou pears for my popsicles. Then try simple additions, such as other fruits, 100% fruit juices, coconut water, dairy or alternative milks, and maybe some herbs or favorite extracts. Maybe you’re craving a creamier, more decadent treat? Try blending pears with yogurt, a banana, or an avocado. Popsicles are great for entertaining, too. If you really want to impress your guests, unmold your frozen popsicles, drizzle with chocolate sauce, dust with nuts or sprinkles, and place back in the freezer before serving.

Indulgences don’t have to be elegant, and treats that beat the heat can be just as satisfying! Want more inspiration? Try this recipe for creamy pear popsicles with kiwi and lime.

Sweet and Sour Spiralized Pear and Cucumber Salad

spiralized pears and cucumbers in a white bowl on a wood grain backgroundIn the height of summertime, pears offer a crisp and refreshing element in salads. Their porous texture sops up tangy dressings like a flavor sponge, and that sweet pear perfume enhances nearly any combination of summer vegetables. Cucumbers are a particularly nice “pearing” in raw salads, and if you have a spiralizer, both cucumbers and pears are ideal for turning into twirly, noodle-like strands. This crunchy salad is a take on that classic sweet-and-sour cucumber recipe that everyone loves this time of year. If you don’t have a spiralizer, simply slice the pears and cucumbers on a mandoline, or as thinly as you can using a chef’s knife. Partner this crunchy, vibrant salad with fish or shrimp hot off the grill, or bring it to the next potluck picnic.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 green USA Pears
1 seedless cucumber

Cucmber Salad 6Directions:
Whisk together the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the sliced shallot and stir to combine. Set aside for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour to macerate the shallots.

Meanwhile, spiralize the pears and cucumbers: Trim the stem from one of the pears and place it in the spiralizer. Process it through the blades, stopping when you reach the core. Repeat to spiralize the other pear. Next, cut the cucumber to fit in the spiralizer and process it through.

Add the spiralized pears and cucumbers to the bowl of dressing and shallots. Toss to combine. Set aside to marinate for at least 5 minutes and up to 30 minutes before serving. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more sugar or salt as needed, then enjoy!

Vacation, all I ever wanted!

RoadVacation is my favorite word. I love adventure, new places and activities, and enjoying time with friends and family: The problem is keeping your health goals on track while traveling. I will be driving across the country this summer to help a friend move and I find road trips make for the most challenging way to travel healthfully. Gas stations, convenience stores, fast food… How do you make smart choices with limited options?

For starters, plan ahead. Pack healthful snacks, including fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and plenty of water — enough for the number of days you’re travelling. When you do stop for refreshments or fuel, avoid the candy and chip aisle at the gas station; however, if temptation is too strong, perhaps allow yourself one indulgence each day on the road. If you know the cities you’ll pass through, locating restaurants with mixed options ahead of time may allow more flexibility. Then, aim for adding veggies as a side or an appetizer, splitting meals, or having fruit for dessert. Likewise, staying active may help offset some indiscretions. Many hotels offer exercise facilities, or even better, get out on foot and explore new people and places!

Small changes go a long way on the road, but remember that enjoying yourself is number one. Give yourself a break, relax, and have fun!

Grilled Stuffed Pears

Pears grilled and stuffed with quinoa and cheeseWhen it comes to summer grilling, pears are often overlooked. But the fact is their hardy texture is ideal for standing up to the intensity of the grill, and as they cook, their delicious flavor is enhanced by the smoky flames. Grilled pears can be prepared in both sweet and savory ways: think grilled pear halves topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert, or sliced grilled pears tossed in a summery salad. Here they are cooked on the grill until just tender and juicy, with a quinoa salad stuffing that evokes flavors of the Mediterranean. Extra-virgin olive oil, Spanish-style chorizo, and fresh mint add a bold, summertime flare, while white balsamic vinegar adds a sweet, fruity tang to complement the flavors found in the grilled pears. Serve these at your next backyard barbecue, for an outside-the-box appetizer or entrée.

Serves 4 as a main course, or 8 as an appetizer

4 USA Anjou pears
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (sometimes labeled “golden” balsamic vinegar)
1/3 cup chopped dry-cured Spanish chorizo
1/4 cup sliced or coarsely chopped almonds, toasted
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup crumbled feta
8 cups baby arugula

Put the quinoa in a small saucepan and add 1 1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside, still covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Drizzle in the olive oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the hot quinoa to coat evenly, then spread it out on a platter to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, add the chorizo, almonds, scallions, and mint and gently toss to incorporate. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Prepare a hot fire in a gas or charcoal grill, or preheat a stovetop grill pan until smoking hot. Grease the grill grates with oil.

Meanwhile, cut the pears in half. Using a round metal spoon, such as a tablespoon-sized measuring spoon or a melon baller, remove the core plus a little extra flesh. Rub the pears on all sides with a light coating of olive oil and sprinkle them with salt.

Grill the pears on the cut sides until deep grill marks appear, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the pears over and fill them with the quinoa stuffing, piling it on in a big heap in the center of each one. Sprinkle the tops with the feta. Close the grill lid and continue grilling until the pears are tender when pierced with a fork and the feta topping is lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the pears. If they seem to be cooking too quickly on the bottom before they become tender within, simply move them to a cooler part of the grill and continue grill roasting, with the lid closed, until they are cooked through.

Serve the hot grilled pears over the arugula, finished with a drizzle of olive oil over the pears and greens.

Be empowered to shift your perspective around food and your body!

woman cooking in the kitchenAs the summer months quickly approach, the buzz around diets and weight loss become more and more prevalent. This summer, try shifting your focus from deprivation and that elusive “bikini body,” which you already possess, and take the opportunity to slow down. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “shoulds” and “wants” that you may forget to glorify the little things that make your life rich on a day-to-day basis. Be empowered to shift your perspective around food and your body! When you breathe, slow down and harness food gratitude, you’ll be pleased to learn that eating can be an extraordinarily joyful experience.

Eating requires that you engage all your senses, which cause your brain to release feel-good chemicals, elevating your mood and evoking feelings of trust, enjoyment and relaxation. Let’s try it!

Take in and embrace what you see. From vibrantly colorful produce stacked at the market to a beautifully plated meal, our eyes act as a gateway to appreciating the food we eat. This is a great time to consider where your food came from and how it was grown, and if you’re eating a meal, you can reflect on the work that went into preparing it.

Try this: Hold a pear or two in your hands. Note the differences that are present between one pear and another from shape and texture to size and color variations. Currently in season are the Red Anjou and Green Anjou, which have been taking a nice long rest in cold storage since late last fall (they don’t ripen on the tree) and are now ripening perfectly!

Savor each bite. We often choose our foods based on the way they taste and the flavors we enjoy, but we rarely take the time to truly savor each bite. Chew mindfully and pay attention to the experience and the way the flavor and texture of your food changes. By savoring each bite, you can enjoy less quantities of food – and still feel satisfied.

Try this: Take a bite of a ripe pear. Note the texture, level of sweetness and juiciness this particular pear possesses. There are ten varieties of USA Pears, each with its own distinctive features – from taste to texture to color – so have fun to trying the different qualities that each variety embodies.

Inhale. Scent evokes memories and emotions, which you can use to enhance the enjoyment of a meal. How a food smells is directly related to your perception of how that food tastes.

Try this: Cut into a juicy pear and take a moment to embrace the sweet aroma. Does this evoke any emotions or excitement? Take note of your thoughts.

You may give this a go once in a while or incorporate a few of these tips on a daily basis, but either way, the act of engaging yourself in all that your food is offering will allow you to celebrate your plate in a way that takes the emphasis off dieting and deprivation. Happy Summer!

Stop Shoulding on Yourself!

arefree happy woman lying on green grass meadow on top of mountaShould is a nasty word; it implies you’re doing something wrong. We all think it, we all say it, and we all need to be a little nicer to ourselves. I’m terribly guilty of this. I just finished the first official year of my doctoral program and today I decided to relax, not go to the gym, and enjoy a little downtime. (GASP!) I’m generally a go, go, go person, so I always feel like I should be doing something productive. But why? I liken the word should to the word shame, as in, I’m ashamed that I did or did not do __X__.

I should go to the gym. I should not eat that ice cream. I should start working on the next project.

Eating well, exercising, finishing that task, the list of our shoulds is endless. In one of the women’s groups I work with we talk about self-compassion. We seem to should things that may be meaningful, but… Do they deserve the importance we give them? What I mean is, I can’t count the times I’ve said, “I should order a salad,” when I really want something else. Even now, that statement makes me feel a level of shame and judgment. (I literally just thought to myself, “I should make a salad for dinner.” Sigh.) On the other hand, if I say to myself, “I should make sure I have food and shelter,” or “I should avoid being attacked by a bear,” I don’t feel shame or judgment. (In fact, I’m unconsciously nodding my head. That IS a good idea.) In contrast, making sure I order a salad at lunch isn’t quite as meaningful. So why do we feel so terrible when we aren’t perfect?

I think there is this notion that for some people healthy choices are easier or more natural, whereas the rest of us have this lifelong back-and-forth of temptation and willpower that creates a make-believe standard impossible to meet. As a dietitian, I walk a fine line between hoping people become healthier and hoping they become more accepting. Telling ourselves that we should or shouldn’t be, do, or act a certain way does not change behavior; in fact, I think it may worsen the situation. In the end, I want everyone to have a long, fulfilling life, and constantly shoulding ourselves doesn’t sound fulfilling.

This is the reason I talk about small changes: Walk an extra ten minutes at lunch; add a pear as a snack; take five minutes to breathe and relax. Small changes don’t require shoulds, they’re small dos that up to a lot of small victories.

Sweet Breakfast Barley Bowl with Pear and Walnuts

Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, bestselling author and nutrition expert
www.franceslargemanroth.com; @FrancesLRothRD

As a parent and professional, I’m always looking for easy, yet flavorful and delicious recipes that can be prepped ahead of time and taken on-the-go. With the warmer weather and longer daylight, it’s all the more important to be satisfied so I can seize the day.

Enter one of my go-to breakfasts bowls. Both the barley and pear are high in fiber (this recipe has 17g per serving!), to keep you feeling full until lunch.

Instead of making the individual servings, you could use the whole batch of barley at once and top it with the sliced pears and walnuts to bring to a picnic or other summertime gathering. Bosc and Red and Green Anjou, so called “winter pears” are in season at the moment, and only ripen evenly to sweet, juiciness after a good long rest in cold storage. As they don’t ripen well on the tree, they’ve been chilling since late last fall and are now perfectly ripe for adding to your favorite spring and summer recipes!

A white bowl of barley topped with pears and walnuts on a blue tablecothSweet Breakfast Barley Bowl with Pear and Walnuts

Makes 6 servings

2 cups uncooked hulled (or pearled) barley, rinsed
pinch of salt

Per serving:
2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk or any type of milk
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon golden raisins
1 USA pear, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts

1. Cook the barley: In a large saucepan, combine the barley with the salt and 5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 40 minutes, until tender but still chewy. Drain off any excess water.

2. Once the barley is cooked, you may use it immediately or let it cool and transfer it to a large airtight container. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.

3. When you’re ready for your breakfast bowl, place 1 cup of the cooked barley in a microwave-safe bowl. Whisk the milk, cinnamon, honey, vanilla and raisins together in a small bowl and then pour over the barley. Microwave for 40 seconds. Arrange the pear slices and walnuts on top and enjoy.
Calories: 411
Fat: 0.29g (sat 0.03g, moo 0.03g, poly 0.1g)
Protein: 10g
Carbohydrates: 83g
Fiber: 17g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Sodium: 59mg
Potassium: 593mg
Calcium: 84mg

This recipe for Sweet Breakfast Barley with Pear and Walnuts is from my cookbook, Eating in Color.