Lighten Up!

Spring has finally arrived, and so have the veggies!  Let’s stick with the theme of eating cleanly and lightening up those meals by incorporating fresh, vibrant vegetables into more of our meals.  A tasty trick to eating lighter this spring is to substitute hearty starches, such as pasta, with nutrient rich vegetables – and I am not talking about salads!  While salads can be wonderfully nutritious, let’s think “outside the box” and get creative with other, highly nutritious vegetables to create easy, one-dish meals that will leave you feeling light and completely satisfied!


A perfect example of a light, healthy meal is the following recipe from the July 2006 issue of Parade Magazine. I have modified it from the original recipe as I always add quite a bit of spinach for extra nutrients, as well as a beautiful bright green color. Once the dish is done, I serve it over a small spoonful of some whole grain, such as barley, couscous or brown rice.

5 large tomatoes
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp fresh pepper
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp (peeled & deveined), rinsed & patted dry
4 handfuls of fresh spinach
1/2 cup parsley
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup feta cheese

Preheat oven to 450. Place tomatoes in 9 x 13″ baking dish. Spoon oil & garlic over tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Place on top rack of oven & roast for 20 minutes. Remove baking dish from oven & stir in shrimp, spinach, parsley & lemon juice. Sprinkle with feta. Place back in oven for 10-15 minutes.

APPROXIMATE NUTRITION: calories 251, CHO 11g, fat 14g, protein 23 g, Na 479 mg

Some of my favorite vegetables I use in place of starches are zucchini, spaghetti squash, cabbage, eggplant, beets, and French beans. If you’re looking for new ways to use these ingredients, go to and to find many easy recipes for each of the items listed.  Whether they’re from the grocery store, the local farmer’s market or your own backyard, make a point to incorporate vegetables into your meals this spring!

– Liz Erker, RD


Good, Clean Cooking: Not Another Chore

I enjoy everything about cooking: the smell, taste, and texture of the ingredients.  Plus I know the foods I choose to cook with actually benefit my overall health! I love to dig into my fridge, freezer, pantry and spice cabinet and get into the groove of creating a colorful, nutritious mini-feast. That being said, I don’t like to play in the kitchen every night. Many nights, time is an issue.

Here are some tips to help you create fast, nutrient-dense meals to get you through the week, without spending every night slicing and dicing.

1. Be Organized

On the weekend, make a double batch of hearty soup or lasagna and freeze half. Whole wheat noodles, and veggies such as tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms and diced peppers, will give the dish a nutritional ‘bump’. Defrost in the fridge on a day when you know you’ll need it. When you get home, heat and serve with some additional veggies!

2. Stay Stocked

If you’ve ever had a hectic day and are unsure what to cook, you may end up sacrificing nutrition and taste, for speed. The trick is to keep your pantry well-stocked with healthy, convenient foods you can throw together in a hurry.

–          Cans of beans for making soups, salads, tacos or quesadillas

–          Tomatoes, pesto or olives for a sauce in which to simmer frozen fish

–          Dried lentils: add water, veggies and curry spices and you’ll have a nice soup in 30-45 minutes

–          Canned wild salmon, tuna or smoked trout to mix with panko-style seasoned bread crumbs and an egg to prepare easy fish cakes

*If you purchase high quality prepared foods, you won’t feel guilty about a meal of sandwiches and canned soup every now and then!

3. Embrace Salads

Not every meal has to consist of an entree and several side dishes. A substantial salad makes a great, quick meal. Just chop some veggies, toss in cherry tomatoes, peppers, carrots, nuts and dried fruit with your favorite protein and your dinner’s ready!
Some great combos include canned or wild salmon, smoked trout or tuna plus soft mozzarella cubes, hard-boiled egg, grilled chicken, fried tofu chunks plus peanuts, or flank steak plus blue cheese crumbles.

4. Grow a Garden

Maintain a small patio-type garden. Try planting a few herbs, lettuce or tomato plants in containers and you’ll have produce so fresh and tasty that no additional preparation is necessary.

Sliced homegrown tomatoes and fresh lettuce will compliment your grilled burger nicely. Fresh basil is a wonderful addition to any pasta dish!

–          Liz Erker, RD