Homemade Stock: Simply Nutritious

vegetable stock image


If there is one thing of which I am certain, it’s that I eat a lot of veggies….in whatever form. I find that in the cooler months, I make soup on a weekly basis, and as you know, the foundation of a delicious, hearty soup is the stock. Well, being a dietitian, I am always looking for ways to improve the nutritional quality of whatever I put in my mouth. So, I realized that instead of always reaching for a store-bought stock which contains an excessive amount of sodium, I should be making my own. I am pleased to say that as of this past autumn, I have been making my own vegetable stock on a regular basis. I had no idea how easy, economical and nutritious it is!!!

All it entails is collecting the scraps and trimmings of whatever veggies you use, preferably carrots, celery, onions, parsley, herbs, garlic, leeks and placing them in a plastic bag or container and storing in the freezer. (Actually, I have used cauliflower and broccoli stumps, beet greens, and Brussel sprout leaves in the mix too.) Make sure none of the trimmings or scraps contain mold. When you have approximately 4 cups of trimmings, place them in a pot with 8 cups of water, salt and whole peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a boil and let simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours. Strain the veggies and voila! you have a nutritious stock which you can freeze in individual containers or use immediately in soup or stew:) It’s that easy!

So, get back to the basics of cooking, start saving time, money and nutrients and make a vegetable stock which will make you proud of yourself!!!


Bon Appetit!!!




Our Body’s Craving of Antioxidants



I’m quite certain that over the past few years you have heard the term ‘antioxidants’ & may wonder what are they, what do they do & why we need them. Well, as you know I am quite passionate about helping others learn to eat for health, which is why I am devoting this post to educating you about the multiple health benefits of antioxidants. Antioxidants are natural or man-made substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals, which are unstable molecules produced during food metabolism or when exposed to exercise, or environmental sources such as sunlight, tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells and may contribute to some diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Many experts believe antioxidants can help prevent that damage. Our immune system helps defend against oxidative stress, (which is another reason to keep your immune system in tip-top shape). As we age, these defenses are less effective which contributes to poor health. Numerous clinical studies show that when we consume antioxidants (think fruits & veggies:), we supply our bodies with protection and numerous positive health benefits. There are many antioxidants, but some of the most common are Beta-carotene (Vitamin A), Selenium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Lutein, and Lycopene. Other sources of antioxidants include nuts, grains, poultry and fish.

Let’s take a look at some of these beauties:

Lycopene is a pigment that gives vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit, papaya, blood oranges and watermelon, their red color. Several studies suggest that consumption of foods rich in lycopene is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease (tip: it is better absorbed by the body when it is consumed in processed tomato products, rather than fresh tomatoes).

Selenium is a trace mineral that is essential to good health but required only in small amounts. Plant foods are the major dietary sources of selenium but it is also found in meat, bread, and Brazil nuts.


Lutein is found in large amounts in the lens and retina of our eye & is applauded for its eye health benefits. It may also have potential protection against damage caused by UVB light and a critical component to overall skin health. Lutein is found naturally in foods such as dark green leafy veggies, egg yolks, and many other fruits and vegetables.

Beta-carotene has the ability to reduce free radicals and protect the cell membrane lipids from the harmful effects of oxidation. It is found in dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and winter squash.

Vitamin C reduces free radicals before they can damage the lipids. These antioxidant properties fight free radicals that can promote wrinkles, age spots, cataracts and arthritis. Antioxidants in vitamin C also have been found to fight free radicals that prey on organs and blood vessels as well. It is found in many fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, salad greens, strawberries, watermelon, cabbage, and sweet potatoes.

Vitamin E may help prevent or delay cardiovascular disease and cancer & has also been shown to play a role in immune function, DNA repair, and other metabolic processes. It is found in soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, wheat germ, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, corn, seeds, olives, egg yolks, and liver.

So, now that you have a base knowledge of antioxidants, their properties & functions, I ask that you consider these wonderful substances ‘medicine’. Our bodies respond best when we consume a balanced diet which contains the goodness that nature has to offer, so take full advantage of these beautiful, powerful little gems & dine on all sorts of whole foods throughout each and every day!!

Here’s to enjoying the fruits of the earth!


Cranberries Go Way Beyond Thanksgiving


If you think that cranberries should only be eaten at Thanksgiving, you’re missing out on the multiple health benefits of this little red gem. Multiple studies have found that the profile of cranberries biologically active components set it apart from other berries.

As you know, daily consumption of a variety of fruit is necessary to promote the intake of a wide variety of phytochemicals which will ultimately improve our overall health. Berries can play an important role in that mix of fruits. The lonely, yet lovely, cranberries contain vast amounts of compounds called polyphenols, which deserve a place in your diet beyond their annual appearance on the Thanksgiving table.

The polyphenol compounds in cranberries include remarkably high levels of anthocyanins, which contribute to the berries bright red color. Yes, they are quite tart, but toss in a bit of sugar, ginger & citrus & you have a powerful, delicious bowl of nutrition. Being that cooking is the healthiest way to eat, I am naturally referring to whole cranberries, not the jellied form which is processed and canned. Spend a few minutes to prepare the following recipe & I promise, you will find yourself stocking up on fresh cranberries & freezing them to prepare them throughout  year.

Below is the recipe I follow. Over the years, I have reduced the amount of sugar, (I use closer to 1/3 cup) as I am trying to de-program my taste buds,  & find that I enjoy them even more!

Cranberry Pecan Relish                                                                                       imagesJAX29BXA

1/2 cup         sugar

½ cup           orange juice

¼ cup            water

1 Tbsp            grated orange peel

½ tsp            ginger

4 cups           cranberries

½ cup           roasted, chopped pecans   (place pecans on pan in toaster oven & toast for 2 or 3 minutes)

Bring first 5 ingredients to simmer over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add berries & stir until they pop. Stir another 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in pecans. Refrigerate.

Have a Healthy Thanksgiving!





Giving Thanks for the Nutritious Pumpkin Seed


When my 4 kids were little, each Halloween we would carve 1 pumpkin per child. Being that waste of any type does not sit well with me, & realizing that I was literally tossing good nutrition down the drain, the thrifty dietitian in me emerged & I decided to collect the seeds & roast the pumpkin to use the delicious pulp for pies & breads (the pulp freezes well:).  As for the seeds, also known by their Spanish name pepitas, I rinse them in a colander, pat them dry with a cloth towel, place them on a jelly roll pan lined with wax paper overnight, (avoid using paper towels as the seeds will stick as they dry), then roast with a bit of salt & herbs.  These powerful little seeds are packed with nutrition! Not only are they very good sources of phosphorus, magnesium and manganese, minerals helpful in building strong bones, but they also contain decent amounts of copper, zinc and iron

Pumpkin seeds provide a variety of antioxidants, including vitamin E. Antioxidants are molecules which help repair cell damage that occurs daily in our bodies, and help ward off infections and disease. These green seeds are a good vegetarian protein source with 9 grams per ¼ cup! Pumpkin seeds are becoming popular as snacks, much like the sunflower seeds I’ve always enjoyed. Both seeds, shelled, have 187 calories and 16 grams of fat per ¼ cup. While the fat content is high, three-fourths of it comes from the more healthful mono and polyunsaturated fats.

The white outer pumpkin seed shell is also edible. Eating the entire seed can help reduce calories as ¼ cup has only 71 calories. Whole seeds also have triple the fiber at 3 grams per ¼ cup compared to only 1 gram for the same amount of kernels alone.

Have you noticed how popular pumpkin has become? There is the ever popular PSL, (pumpkin spice latte:), pumpkin hummus, ice cream, bars, cake & on & on. Get in on the craze by roasting your own pumpkin seeds, using a recipe from your favorite cooking site or visit http://www.eatingwell.com or http://www.prevention.com (my go-to sites for healthy recipes). It doesn’t take much to incorporate savory flavors into your roasted seeds….a bit of cumin, salt, onion & chili powder will give them a little ‘kick’.

Pumpkin seeds can also be used in recipes as you would other nuts and seeds. Use as a topping on salads and cooked vegetables. Add to your favorite hot and cold cereals, granola or trail mix, or for added protein, crush or grind the seeds and add to your meat or veggie burgers. Substitute them for nuts in cookies and muffins and in banana, zucchini or other quick breads.

At this time of year, pumpkin seeds are available fresh straight from the pumpkin. You can find them at many area grocers year-round: shelled, unshelled, raw, roasted and prepackaged or in bulk.

Hands down, the best salsa I have ever eaten is Pumpkin Seed Salsa. Last February, very dear friends who also happen to be very experienced vegetarian cooks, gifted me an 8 oz jar of this delectable ‘gold’ . Once I tasted it, I knew it was going to be a year-round addition to my fridge. Needless to say, they shared the recipe & I have made it multiple times, tripling it each time:) I use it as salad dressing, a condiment to my entrée, or as a dip. I have included the recipe below.


The following is the recipe I’ve used- I adapted it from some other recipes I’ve found, so it is certainly tweak able to make it however you like. Enjoy!!

  1.  Slice 5 to 6 roma tomatoes and 1 red bell pepper. Lightly oil and salt and place on cookie sheet. Broil until slightly charred.
  2.  Place charred tomatoes, bell pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1.5 cups H2O in pot on high heat. Add sliced spicy peppers to taste (pasilla, chiles de arbol, or jalapenos are all good options).
  3.  Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to low simmer. Add 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 tablespoon smoked paprika. Let simmer for about 20 minutes.
  4.  Separately, toast 4 tablespoons pepitas (pumpkin seeds) in a small saucepan until just browned.
  5.  Add 3 tablespoons white vinegar to tomato mixture and simmer for 1 more minute.
  6.  Place tomato mixture and toasted pepitas in blender and blend to desired texture.
  7.  Optional to add finely chopped scallions and cilantro to salsa- I usually skip this step to keep it fresh longer, but its a tasty addition if being  served immediately!




This Dietitian’s Thanksgiving

There are roughly 10 days until Thanksgiving, which means that there is still plenty of time to look for new and healthier versions of your favorite recipes. Have you ever wondered what a RD eats? Here is a sampling from my menu that I serve alongside my turkey.

Each year my menu for Thanksgiving seems to get healthier yet, “cleaner”, while at the same time, more delicious. By cleaner, I mean that the foods I serve are closer to their natural state. Instead of a green bean casserole, I simply prepare fresh green beans tossed in a bit of olive oil (I use a spritzer) with a touch of parmesean cheese sprinkled on top.

Being that I always serve at least 2 vegetables, I make a point of serving 1 vegetable that my family and friends may not eat on a regular basis. For instance, fresh brussel sprouts tossed in a very hot pan with a bit of olive oil & a hint of nutmeg. Or, fresh beets which have been wrapped in aluminum foil and roasted in the oven @ 350 until soft (approx 45 minutes). A green salad with spinach, roasted nuts and dried cherries or pomegranates and a bit of low-fat feta cheese with a light balsamic vinaigrette is always appreciated.

For the stuffing, I use a 100% whole wheat/grain baguette which I cut into cubes. Sometimes, I use a blend of rye and Italian breads too. I then use fat-free chicken stock with lots of veggies, dried fruits and seasonings. Apples and cranberries are a great addition to stuffing, as are celery and onion. Keep in mind that you can add anything that you like to your stuffing.

For the potatoes, I leave half of the potatoes unpeeled which increases the fiber and vitamin content. The trick to making mashed potatoes healthy is to keep it simple. As the potatoes simmer, I add 2 cloves of garlic-this allows the potatoes to soak up the flavor of the garlic. When mashing, I use a combination of fat-free chicken stock and skim milk with a little bit of butter (2 Tbsp). My secret ingredient is about 6 sections of roasted garlic along with chives. I guarantee they will love the potatoes!

Fresh sweet potatoes are so delicious in their natural state that one does not need to add much more than skim milk and a bit of brown sugar. After you puree the pulp of the sweet potato with milk and brown sugar, simply warm in the oven until hot.

I always use fresh cranberries. Once they have “popped”, I then add fresh orange peel, orange juice, sugar & some roasted pecans. This is the only recipe that I will use and, by far, the best recipe ever! ( I have included the recipe:)

Lastly………. dessert. There are so many festive autumn desserts that can easily be made from scratch. I always make my mother’s pumpkin pie recipe which I modify by using fat-free evaporated milk plus skim milk, & eggs, which I separate & then fold the whites into the mixture. Also, I serve it as a flan. In other words, to save calories, I do not use a crust. I simply pour the pureed pumpkin mixture in a pan & bake, as I would a pie. For those who do not like pie, I make pumpkin bars and pecan bars.

I hope that you find my modifications to otherwise standard recipes useful and more nutritious than their previous counterparts. There are many ways to cut calories, sodium and fat from your family recipes. But remember, the most important part of the season is to enjoy and be thankful for your family and friends:)

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Cranberry Pecan Relish                                                        

1/2 cup         sugar

½ cup           orange juice

¼ cup           water

1 Tbsp           grated orange peel

½ Tsp           ginger

4 cups           cranberries

½ cup           roasted pecans

Bring first 5 ingredients to simmer over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add berries & stir until they pop. Stir another 5 minutes. Remove from heat Stir in pecans. Refrigerate.







The Puzzle of Eating For Health


I look at healthy eating as a puzzle, in which pieces fit nicely together. There are many pieces which fit into the healthy eating puzzle, but the best piece, the one that keeps all the other pieces in place is: eat more real whole food & less of the highly processed foods. This places the emphasis not on one single nutrient, but on the entire diet. I call this ‘eating with intelligence.’  My message is a simple one: we need to start to eat for one reason…………nutrition! Many Americans eat for all sorts of funky reasons: boredom, stress, entertainment, habit, ‘just because’ etc.. We need to shift our focus from eating for those reasons to eating to nourish these wonderful bodies of ours. Once we start to focus on nourishment, we will begin to feel better and therefore want to make smarter lifestyle choices which will bring us to an optimally healthy place:) It’s pretty cool!

Two easy tips to accomplish this are to choose foods:

  •  close to their natural state. For instance, fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, peas, legumes
  •  with shorter ingredient lists. Long lists indicate lots of additives and processing. If you can’t pronounce it, you should not eat it! For instance, a bag of kale should contain, well, kale.

So, I challenge you to acknowledge those reasons/habits which are keeping you from moving forward with reaching optimal health, & begin eating for the sole purpose of nourishing your body. Believe me, you will thank me later:)

Be healthy!


Back to School Basics for a Healthy Diet

Millions of Missouri & Illinois children headed back to the classroom this month, and, for many, this will be their first experience with cafeteria meals. Some studies have confirmed a connection between what our children eat and how they perform in the classroom. Students who eat a well-balanced breakfast, for instance, pay closer attention and perform better on standardized tests. By consuming the right amount of nutrients, children improve their mental power as well as their chances for a healthy body now and in the future.


Parents may be confused about how to shop when trying to improve their family’s diet. Healthy eating is not about counting calories, but rather making calories count. Eating a combination of nutrient-rich foods helps to satisfy your body, helps you feel full longer, and provides your body with important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals.


Here are some shopping tips to help you prepare nutritious meals for your family:


  • Colorful produce = lots of nutrition
  • To save money, purchase produce which is ‘in season’.
  • If you can’t find fresh, choose frozen… it’s just as nutritious!


  • Stock up on lean protein items when prices are good. Look for coupons and in-store specials.
  • Look for family-sized value packs of lean meats that can be used for more than one meal by freezing some for later use.


  • Choose low-fat or non-fat dairy products for a great source of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and magnesium.
  • Stock up on  milk, regular and Greek yogurt, and low-fat cheese.
  • Choose family-sized items for cost savings such as plain yogurt by the pint instead of single serve. For a protein ‘bump’ use plain Greek yogurt as an alternative to sour cream or mix it with chopped fruit for a yummy snack.


  • Select whole grains as a good source of fiber, folate and energy.
  • Look for flavorful options such as 100% whole wheat or grain bread, multi-grain pastas, brown or wild rice.
  • Think ‘outside your box’ and experiment with some of the other grains such as spelt, quinoa, bulgar or barley

– Liz Erker, RD


Yikes! If you have been to the grocery store lately, surely you have noticed the rising food prices. Up and down the aisles, prices are soaring for basic staple foods such as meat, milk, fruits and vegetables. The U. S. Department of Agriculture estimates that retail food prices will rise as much as 3.5 percent this year, the largest annual increase in three years.

Even with this increase, it’s still possible to feed your family healthy meals without breaking the bank. Below are some tips to help you save money by getting organized and creative!


The more you plan, the more likely you are to succeed. So before you head to the store, be sure to make a game-plan. Each week, plan your meals for the next 7 days by actually sitting down and deciding what you’ll have for dinner each night. This will:

  • simplify and limit what you buy at the grocery store
  • force you to check your pantry and refrigerator to see what you already have on hand so you don’t overbuy
  • make you more likely to check in-store specials to reduce your cost
  • reduce unnecessary stress of figuring out meals daily
  • decrease the likelihood of eating out, which often means spending more money, and eating higher calorie foods.

When shopping:

  • Buy fruits and vegetables in season. They’ll be less costly and taste better, too. Fresh produce is good, but frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are also nutritious and often cost less. Keep in mind frozen and canned produce are picked and processed at their nutritional peak.
  • Check the unit price tag to calculate possible savings of buying different brands or quantities. The unit price is displayed on the shelf below each food product. It can be a very useful tool in comparing different brands and sizes of the same brands to know which is the better buy.
  • If you have the freezer space and shelf space in your kitchen, buy in bulk. Purchasing large sizes of frozen vegetables, potatoes, and meat items can save you money.
  • Skip convenience foods. Walk right past anything that has already had some type of pre-cooking or preparation done – frozen dinners, instant oatmeal, instant rice, and pre-cut vegetables are some examples. These items will always cost you more than what you can make from scratch.
  • Buy beans! Whether dried or canned, beans are one of the most economical sources of protein and fiber you can find. They also have no cholesterol and are low in calories.
  • You can save money on milk if you buy the largest size you can use within 4 to 5 days. Buying milk in smaller sizes such as quarts or pints will cost more than buying a gallon or half-gallon size. Another money saver is buying instant nonfat dry milk. You can extend the quantity of milk by mixing powdered milk half and half with fresh milk for drinking.
  • When buying cereal, put down the sugar-coated cereals and opt for whole-grains. Whole-grain cereals will give you more of a nutritional bang  for your buck. Store brand cereals that are often identical to higher-priced name-brand cereals will also cost less.
  • Check the dates on food. “Sell-by” tells the store how long to display the product for sale. “Best if used by” is a recommendation for best flavor or quality – not a purchase or safety date. “Use-by” is the date recommended for the use of the food item while at its best quality.

Keep it Simple!

  • Choose one day during the week when you have extra time to make (or grill) large batches of food that can be frozen into smaller amounts to be used throughout the week. These can easily be thawed or defrosted in the microwave on busy days, preventing you from spending money on eating out. All you have to add are side dishes such as fruits, vegetables or grains to complete the meal.
  • Eat any leftover food for lunch or dinner the following day, or incorporate them into casseroles, soups or salads.
  • If you have the time, sun and space, plant a garden. Whatever food you grow yourself will be an education for the family, have a greater, fresher nutritional value and cost less than what you will pay for it at the grocery store.
  • COOK! Make as much food as you can from scratch. Doing so costs less than the same item already made at the grocery store – and it usually tastes better too!

Remember, it pays to be organized.  The better prepared you are, the more time and money you will save while feeding your family healthy, fresh-tasting, delicious meals!!



Cholesterol: Get the Facts and Take Control

What is cholesterol and how does it impact my body? As a registered dietitian, those are two questions I’m commonly asked. Hopefully this post will help you better understand cholesterol and its effects.

Cholesterol is a type of fat found in your blood. Our bodies manufacture cholesterol. The waxy substance is also found naturally in animal foods, such as eggs, cheese and shellfish. We need it to help digest other foods and to make hormones and vitamin D, but too much of it can cause health concerns.

Approximately 17% of Americans have high cholesterol for a variety of reasons, most of which can be controlled. If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can harden and stick to your artery walls, causing them to narrow and result in a condition known as atherosclerosis. Clots can then form, further blocking the narrow arteries, and causing a heart attack. Eating a healthy diet, mostly plant foods, is one way to reduce the buildup of this fatty substance in your artery walls. High cholesterol levels – above 200 mg/dL or higher – can lead to heart disease.

To avoid having elevated cholesterol, make the following lifestyle adjustments.

  • Eat a diet that is low in saturated and trans fats.
  • Reduce your sodium intake.
  • Eat only enough calories each day to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit your carbohydrate intake. Complex carbohydrates are best: whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise daily. Just 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise like biking, walking or swimming can help lower cholesterol.
  • If you smoke – QUIT!
  • Clean up your diet and prepare, cook and eat more of the foods that nature provides like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, peas and legumes. Eating a variety of these plant foods will ensure you receive plenty of nutrition, while still keeping your cholesterol intake to a minimum.

Take control and act now to lower your cholesterol and decrease your risk of heart disease!

–          Liz Erker, RD

How to Boost Vitamin D Intake

In the past 6 or 7 years, vitamin D has received quite a bit of attention due to the fact that many people have tested with low levels of the nutrient.  Numerous studies have reported on the benefits of adequate vitamin D intake. In fact, one study in The Archives of Internal Medicine found that those with sufficient amounts of the vitamin tend to live a longer, healthier life. Vitamin D has become a ‘super nutrient’  as it has shown it may lower mortality rates. It may also reduce one’s risk of cancer, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, as well as gum disease and Multiple Sclerosis.

It’s never too late to take in more vitamin D, even if you’ve tested low in the past. There are two ways for humans to get vitamin D: into the skin through sun exposure, and through diet.

Vitamin D through Sun Exposure

Of course being in the sun for extended periods of time without sunscreen is dangerous. However, it doesn’t take much sun exposure to get enough vitamin D into your body. All you have to do is expose your hands for 5-10 minutes, without sunscreen, two or three times a week and you will produce the maximum amount of the vitamin. Other than that exposure, you should wear sunscreen any time you are outdoors.


Vitamin D through Diet

Fatty fish provide the most vitamin D for your diet. Examples include 3 ounces of wild salmon, Atlantic Mackerel, sardines or shrimp (even though shrimp is not fatty, it has a decent dose of D). Other sources of vitamin D are Shiitake mushrooms, fortified milk (1% or skim), and egg yolks. Some cereals, cheese and yogurt are now fortified with vitamin D too.  If you are taking a Calcium supplement with vitamin D, make sure the D is in the form of D3, which is the most bioactive form.

The amount of Vitamin D you need each day depends upon your age. Average daily recommended amounts for adults 19-70 years is 600 IU. So make sure that you eat the foods fortified with Vitamin D, and the foods where it occurs naturally, as well as exposing your hands in the sun, unprotected for that short amount of time, & your levels should improve.

wild salmon