Put Your Best Fork Forward!

Woman with curly blonde hair in an orchard excitedly about to bite a fresh pearHappy National Nutrition Month! Every year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages getting back to the basics of a healthful diet, and moving toward healthful habits can be as simple as changing the next bite. Lately, I have been hearing of more nutrition and food fads and myths than usual. It seems the internet has made everyone a nutrition expert. (Insert a shrug and a sigh.) My personal pet peeve is the use of the phrases good food and bad food. Unfortunately, nutrition isn’t black and white unless you’re eating a hot fudge sundae. When I was an obese teen, I’d come home after school and cram my mouth full of snack cakes, potato chips, whatever packaged food I could find in our overstuffed pantry. These, of course, were not nutrient-dense choices and I don’t ever recommend eating this way. But can we still splurge on perceived bad foods while maintaining a healthful diet?

Yes. Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as starting with the next forkful. Each bite is important, but never splurging is an impossibility. I eventually overhauled my diet and my palate – but I didn’t start there. I started with one simple change. I added more fresh produce. Notice I didn’t say I cut out the junk, ran five miles a day, and added fresh produce, because I didn’t (at first). I made a conscious decision to add fresh foods to my plate. Sometimes it was as simple as a few carrots in addition to my chips. Sometimes it was a piece of fruit after a meal. Over time, I started to feel a little better and liked how fresh foods tasted – and it wasn’t terribly difficult to maintain one bite at a time. Now, I feel great and I definitely still splurge!

Considering it is National Nutrition Month, let’s focus on a simple change, such as improving the next bite. Do I wish as a teen I had stuffed my face with pears and carrots instead? Of course. But starting with the next bite can turn into a lifelong habit!

Go green and get your culinary jig on this St. Patrick’s Day

Many Irish staples carry an impressive nutrient profile. You can boost the benefits even further by complementing them with flavorful, nutritious pears. Here are 4 ways to do it:

steel cut oatmeal in a small mason jar1) Irish Oatmeal
Start the day with a festive batch of oatmeal. Prepare this simple recipe for Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oats, then speckle with pieces of bright green Anjou pear (in season now!).

pretty diced pear and apple chutney in a jar2) Soda Bread
This quick and easy 5-Ingredient Whole-Wheat Irish Soda Bread is hearty and satisfying without breaking the calorie bank. Serve with a spread of pear jam or spoonfuls of pear chutney and chunks of sharp cheddar cheese.

Hearty sheppard's pie slice with bosc pears on a white plate with a green napkin3) Potatoes
Spuds get a bad reputation for being unhealthy but are actually filled with important nutrients, including potassium, iron, fiber and B-vitamins. Bake, mash or cut into fries and roast in the oven. Serve with roasted chicken and a side of Cinnamon Pear Sauce. For a one-pot meal, add chopped, firm Bosc pears to your favorite recipe for a tasty spin on a classic Shepard’s Pie.

sliced pears atop red cabbage with green onions in a white bowl4) Cabbage
There’s more to this cruciferous and cancer-fighting veggie than corned beef. Enjoy cabbage year-round in salads and slaws. Stick with the green theme by combining cabbage with kale in a fresh and crunchy Kale Cabbage and Pear Slaw with Citrus Dressing.

#PearUp with a Pal for Lasting Results!

Red Pear SuccessNow that 2017 is fully underway, you may be feeling less motivated to maintain your New Year’s resolution. You’re not alone: By two weeks into January, approximately 1/3 of us have failed to maintain our resolutions. So maybe it’s time to #pearup with a friend or group!

Studies suggest that people who participate alongside a partner or group, whether for weight loss or physical activity, tend to stick with the program longer (1, 2). Weight management programs that incorporate meetings or phone calls tend to have greater success partly due to encouragement and accountability (3). Newer research even suggests that online weight loss communities via various social media platforms are associated with greater weight loss (4, 5). From my personal experience, friends make the journey fun and we feel less alone. Friends and I sometimes get together to prep recipes for the week, incorporating lots of fruit, veggies, and fun into what can be an otherwise dull task!

Likewise, partner or group exercise tends to be more effective than going solo. This is partly due to the Köhler effect, which is when weaker members are motivated to keep up with more capable members of a group (6, 7). Additionally, if the group relies on everybody completing the task at hand, the weakest members tend to step up their performances, such as finishing a group jog (8). This seems to happen because we try to match our partner’s performance (9, 10), and virtual workout partners may have similar effects – noteworthy for those just starting out or who have anxiety around group fitness or gyms (11). Personally, I’m a fan of group exercise because meeting a friend makes me show up, we cheer each other on, and it feels less like work and more like fun. I’ve made some of my closest friends this way!

Whether you’re off and running with your resolution or still trying to get off the couch, think about enlisting a friend. Chances are, your friends need motivation and want to #pearup, too!

  1. Wing RR, Tate DF, Gorin AA, Raynor HA, Fava JL. Self-regulation program for maintenance of weight loss. N Engl J Med. 2006;355:1563-71.
  2. Dishman RK, Buckworth J. Increasing physical activity: A quantitative synthesis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Jun 1996;28:706–19.
  3. Kulik NL, Fisher EB, Ward DS, Ennett ST, Bowling JM, Tate DF. Peer support enhanced social support in adolescent females during weight loss. Am J Health Behav. 2014;38:789-800.
  4. Pappas GL, Cunha TO, Bicalho PV, Ribeiro A, Couto Silva AP, Meira W Jr, Beleigoli AM. Factors associated with weight change in online weight management communities: A case study in the LoseIt Reddit community. J Med Internet Res. 2017;19:e17.
  5. Turner-McGrievy GM, Tate DF. Weight loss social support in 140 characters or less: Use of an online social network in a remotely delivered weight loss intervention. Transl Behav Med. 2013;3:287-94.
  6. Kerr NL, Hertel G. The Köhler group motivation gain: How to motivate the “weak links” in a group. Soc Pers Psychol Comp. January 2010;5:43–55.
  7. Weber B, Hertel G. Motivation gains of inferior group members: A meta-analytical review. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2007;93:973–93.
  8. Steiner ID. Group process and productivity. New York: Academic Press; 1972.
  9. Stroebe W, Diehl M, Abakoumkin G. Social compensation and the Köhler effect: Toward a theoretical explanation of motivation gains in group productivity. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum; 1996. Witte E, Davis J, eds. Understanding group behavior: Consensual action by small groups; No. 2.
  10. Kerr NL, Messé LA, Seok DH, Sambolec EJ, Lount Jr. RB, Park ES. Psychological mechanisms underlying the Köhler motivation gain. Pers Soc Psychol B. 2007;33(6):828–41.
  11. Feltz DL, Forlenz ST, Winn B, Kerr NL. Cyber buddy is better than no buddy: A test of the Köhler motivation effect in exergames. Games Health J. 2014;3:98-105.

Stuffed Avocado with Bay Shrimp, Pear, and Mango

This stuffed avocado recipe is both simple and elegant. Begin with sweet and salty bay shrimp, and add crunchy pears and tropical, ripe mango to provide great texture and flavor. Bright, fresh lime juice plays perfectly with the creamy, rich avocado, and a pop of fresh mint will bring it all together. Serve this salad for lunch on a warm day, or alongside some grilled meat at your next barbecue.

Stuffed AvocadoIngredients
8 oz. bay shrimp
¼ a red onion, finely minced
1 firm ripe USA Pear, small dice
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced small
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 small handful fresh mint leaves, torn
2 ripe avocados, halved and pitted

Directions
In a medium bowl, combine the shrimp, onion, pear, mango, and lime juice and gently stir to combine. Add the oil and salt, and toss to coat. Gently mix in the torn mint at the last moment. Divide the mixture between the four avocado halves, filling the cavity and allowing the extra shrimp salad to overflow onto the plate. Serve immediately.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Smoky Red Pear and Grilled Corn Salsa

USA Pears are back in season, and this unique late summer salsa is the perfect way to show them off! Adding a few pinches of cumin lends the salsa a gentle smokiness which balances the honey-sweetness of the pears. Serve this salsa with your favorite tortilla chips or use it to generously top grilled chicken or pork.

red pear salsa
Ingredients
2 ears of corn, shucked
1 tsp. neutral flavored oil, such as grapeseed
½ a medium sweet onion, small dice
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
2 firm ripe red USA pears, such as Starkrimson or Red Bartlett
1 lime (for zest and juice)
¼ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Directions
Preheat your grill to medium. Drizzle the oil over the corn and rub to coat with the oil. Once the grill is hot, cook the corn for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until hot and blistered in spots. Set the corn aside until cool enough to handle. Once cooled, cut the kernels from the cobs using a sharp knife. In a medium bowl, combine the corn, sweet onion, jalapeno, and pears. Zest half of the lime and add it to the salsa, then halve the lime and squeeze the juice over the ingredients. Add the cumin, salt, and cilantro, and gently toss to coat. Transfer the salsa to a bowl and serve.

Prep time: 35 minutes
Yield: 3 cups salsa

Pear and Fresh Vegetable Summer Rolls

summerrollsThese colorful and refreshing summer rolls aren’t just beautiful, they are absolutely delicious! You can use any variety of vegetables and herbs to fill the rolls, not just those I’ve mentioned here. Use firm pears for filling the rolls – they add just the right amount of sweetness along with a unique crunch. It takes a little practice to get the hang of working with the spring roll skins, but once you’ve got it down, you’ll be wanting to make fresh rolls all summer long.

Ingredients:
several handfuls spinach leaves, stems trimmed
half an English cucumber, cut into long, thin strips
1 large carrot, grated or cut into a fine julienne
1 sweet pepper, cut into long thin strips
2 firm USA pears, such as Anjou, sliced julienne style
several sprigs fresh basil
12 spring roll skins
your favorite peanut sauce or sweet chili sauce for dipping

Directions:
Prepare all of the vegetables first and place them in small dishes around your work area. Julienne the pears last to delay browning, and place them at your workstation as well. Moisten one spring roll skin by running it under cold water for about 5 seconds on each side. While the skin is still firm, transfer it to your work surface. Do not allow the skin to get too flexible before you place it on your work surface or it will be difficult to work with. Fill the roll by layering several spinach leaves across the center, leaving about one inch of open space on both sides. Top with the sliced vegetables, then the pears, and finally with a few basil leaves. By now the wrapper will be pliable. Starting at the bottom, carefully roll the summer roll up like a burrito, wrapping the ends in about halfway through your roll. Place the completed roll on a platter, and repeat the process until you are out of ingredients. Do not stack the rolls, as they can become quite sticky. Once all of the rolls are completed, slice them on a diagonal with a serrated knife, arrange, and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

Prep time: 40 minutes
Yield: 12 rolls

Crunchy Vegetable and Pear Salad

crunchy saladDid you know that many varieties of USA Pears are delicious when not yet ripe? Red and Green Anjou Pears are a perfect example. Though they might not seem ready to eat, they are already full of juicy pear flavor with a great, lightly crunchy texture. That makes unripe Anjous the perfect addition to salads and slaws.

This tasty salad is full of crisp, colorful vegetables and sweet Red Anjou Pears. Toss it with my almond butter-based dressing (sweetened with dates instead of refined sugar), and enjoy it as a quick lunch or an easy dinner side.

Crunchy Vegetable and Pear Salad

Ingredients
For the Almond Butter – Date Dressing:
3 tablespoons unsalted almond butter
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 Medjool dates, pitted and finely chopped
½ cup water
½ teaspoon sea salt

Directions:
Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Set the dressing aside until ready to use.

Ingredients
For the Salad:
4 packed cups chopped cabbage (red and/or green)
1 medium carrot, julienned or grated
1 yellow pepper, thinly sliced
3 scallions, sliced thinly on a diagonal
1 bunch watercress
2 firm USA Pears, such as Red Anjou, thinly sliced
¼ cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients except for the almonds. Drizzle with the dressing and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle the almonds over the top and serve.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 – 6 servings

The Two Diet Changes to Make in 2016

When it comes to personal meal goals, it’s important to focus on making changes that will make an impact, but aren’t unrealistic or overwhelming. So, we’ve put together our top two big-impact changes. These are changes that studies have shown will help you stay at a healthy weight, prevent disease and have more energy!

1. Keep track of the colors on your plate: Mind your fruits and veggies and aim to get 1 1/2 – 2 cups of fruit and at least 2 1/2 – 3 cups of veggies each day. For more information about exactly how much you should be eating based on your age and activity level, check out ChooseMyPlate.gov. Research shows that getting enough colorful produce can help keep weight off and ward off nasty diseases like cancer and heart disease. This is why the new 2015 – 2020 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans continues to recommend eating a variety of fruits (specifically whole fruits) as one of the keys to a healthy diet.

One way to help you meet your goals is to set a general guide for when you will have your fruits and veggies each day. For instance, many people find that having 1 cup of fruit at breakfast and 1/2 cup with a snack or after dinner works well. 1 cup of fruit is equivalent to one medium whole piece of fruit, such as a medium pear, or 1 cup of pear slices. For a fast snack on-the-go, we love to pair (pun intended!) a pear with 2 tablespoons of sliced almonds (or 14 whole almonds).

As for veggies, a great way to divide the servings up is to eat at least 1/2 cup with breakfast or a snack, 1 cup with lunch and 1 1/2 cups with dinner. In the winter, it’s great to include veggie based soups with lunches and dinners to make it extra easy to get your servings in. And don’t forget salsa and tomato sauce, which also count as veggies. Click here for a downloadable pdf that makes tracking colors each day a fun challenge for kids and adults alike.

Inspired? Try this crunchy and delicious Watercress Pear Slaw. Watercress Pear Slaw

2. Make the switch to unrefined carbohydrates: Many fad diets make carbs out to be the enemy – but not all carbs are bad! Refined sources of carbohydrates, such as those made from white flour (white bread products)), white rice, and those with added sugars (cookies, cakes, soda, sweetened cereals, etc.) are quickly digested and don’t offer much staying power. Plus, they can contribute to weight gain and elevated triglycerides. Think of these carbs as treats–– you can still have in small amounts, but not as the main part of a meal.

Less refined carbs, which include whole grains (rolled or steel-cut oats, bulgur wheat, wheat berries, 100% whole grain pasta), whole fruits (like pears!), starchy vegetables (winter squash, peas, and corn), and beans and legumes (black beans, lentils, etc.), contain more nutrients, particularly fiber and protein. These carbs keep you feeling satisfied and your blood sugar and energy level at a more even keel.

Inspired? Try starting the day with this refreshing and satisfying Pear Oatmeal and Blueberry Smoothie!pear-oatmeal-blueberry-breakfast-smoothie-sm

If you make these two changes you will notice a huge difference in the way that you feel within days! Have a healthy and happy new year!

Six Simple Habits for the New Year

Woman Texting In Kitchen

A new year brings many things, a fresh start, a year of possibilities, and broken resolutions… We often set lofty goals and envision working out every day looking cute in our gym outfits, not the sweaty messes we really are. Visions are easy, reality is usually harder. Picking a healthy habit to work toward, rather than a resolution, might be simpler and more realistic. Give it a shot!

1. Make a plan. Whether you want to exercise more or lose fifty pounds, have a plan in place. Make it simple, such as walking 20 minutes twice a week or prepping meals on Sundays. Simple is easier to stick to and gives your schedule more flexibility.

2. Add a fruit or veggie. It’s not news that Americans don’t eat enough fruits and veggies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 13% of Americans eat the recommended 1.5-2 cups of fruit and 9% eat the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables. Keep it simple: pick up a pear or some baby carrots to munch between meals.

3. Move more. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested inactivity may impact health more than obesity! But you don’t have to run a marathon, or run at all, to be active. If you don’t currently exercise, work steps into your day or walk 30 minutes each week. If you’re already active, add one more workout each week. Small steps lead to big changes.

4. Don’t like exercise? Grab a buddy! Working out with someone may increase motivation; it may even improve intensity or performance. I have a gym buddy: We motivate each other to exercise and have much more fun doing it. For someone who used to be obese and hated exercise, I actually look forward to our work outs now!

5. Dust off your knives and cook a little. You don’t have to win Chopped to get a little creative in the kitchen. Plus, cooking with friends or family may improve dietary quality and enjoyment of meals. And if you’re preparing food at home you’re less likely to grab take out, right?

6. Finally, get back up again. Everyone has fallen short of goals or fallen off the wagon – sometimes many times. Life isn’t suddenly better when you reach the top, so stop beating yourself up. Get back up, brush yourself off, and jump back on that wagon. Happy New Year!

Delicata Squash, Pear, Arugula, and Pomegranate Salad

Delicata Squash, Pear, Arugula, and Pomegranate Salad SM

Here is an elegant, seasonal, and colorful first course for your Thanksgiving meal. Sweet roasted delicata squash rings make the perfect base for filling with this bright salad of arugula and thinly sliced pears. Drizzled with a creamy toasted pecan dressing and sprinkled with jewel-like pomegranate seeds, this salad will please everyone invited to your table this holiday season.

Ingredients
Creamy Toasted Pecan Dressing
½ cup pecan halves, toasted
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup neutral oil, such as sunflower oil
Salad
1 large delicata squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
1 firm ripe USA Pear, such as Green Bartlett or Concorde
½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces baby arugula
¼ cup pomegranate seeds

Directions
For the dressing: Place the toasted pecans into a blender or food processor and pulse until they become a fine powder. Add the honey, sugar, lemon, vinegar, and salt and puree until combined. With the machine running, slowly pour in the oil to emulsify the dressing. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the salad: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Trim the ends off of the squash and cut into 6 evenly sized rings. Remove the seeds and place onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone liner. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with salt and toss to coat. Arrange the squash in a single layer and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the squash is just cooked through. In the meantime, slice the pear into a fine julienne either by hand or using a mandoline. Place in a large bowl and toss with the ½ teaspoon of lemon juice. Add the arugula and gently toss to mix. When the squash is done, transfer to individual plates and fill each ring with a generous handful of the arugula and pears. Drizzle each salad with the pecan dressing and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds.

prep time: 50 minutes
yield: 6 servings