Spring – A New Beginning

May 10, 2011 in Blog Recipes, Cooking & Baking Hints, Diabetes Management, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Spring is a favorite time of the year for many; for me, it’s the peonies poking their red shoots straight up from the recently frozen soil; the daffodils and tulips and all their cousins, distributing color from one end of the yard to the other; blooming trees almost everywhere I look – most of all, it’s the promise of so much more to come. As I’ve told you before, gardening is one of my favorite hobbies. But today, I was wondering if springtime is also a great time for renewed motivation – thinking about where we are and where we want to be.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ninety percent of Americans rate their health as “good” or better, in spite of the rising rates of obesity and diabetes. Some of the statistics are available at the CDC’s early release site. One of the issues may be what I alluded to in my last post – people may feel well and not even realize that their health is slipping. Just because you have not been diagnosed with diabetes, or with cardiovascular disease, doesn’t mean that your health is good. In spite of this issue, however, there are some issues that stand as reasons to celebrate.

  1. Americans are smoking less. The percentage of adults who smoke has decreased by 5 points to 19.5 percent. This trend is worthy of a huge celebration, from my perspective. If there is any one place to start with improving health, this is it.
  2. Physical activity is up by five points to 34.8 percent. This too is super wonderful news.


The two ‘reasons to celebrate’ above are a great start; but there is ample opportunity for further improvement of our health. One of the places that I focus on frequently is food and eating. I believe that sharing knowledge and awareness about healthy nutrition it will foster demands for healthy food products and ultimately influence the marketing trends. The goal is, of course, to continue to make lifestyle changes that support living your life to the fullest – without early disease or decreased quality of life.


You would probably agree; if we as a nation could choose a number 3 to our ‘reasons to celebrate’ list above, it would be ‘the nation losing weight’ – that would have the biggest impact over any other change. So on this lovely spring day, I’ll devote a few ideas to help move us forward in weight management.



First, I’d like to begin by reminding you how important ‘yummy’ is. I honestly, don’t believe that you will make your lifestyle change a long-term change if you don’t enjoy your food. Sure you can eat celery sticks and grapefruit with each and every meal for a while, but for the rest of your life? I don’t think so. Food is a real enjoyment – move toward making the food you eat taste good – yes, select healthy foods that you will enjoy for the rest of your life; learn how it can be prepared to maximize its yumminess.


Rein in the control of the ingredients in your food

Less that 60% of American meals are prepared in our own kitchens. Cooking from scratch (from simple ingredients) is a thing of the past. Less than half of main meals prepared at home included even one fresh product. Why should we care? The fast food establishments and restaurants are notorious for loading on what is profitable to them, while being palatable to you, but unhealthy: simple processed carbohydrates, salt and fat (often saturated and trans). Note: these ingredients are not contributing to your optimal health. Sit for an extra minute or two the next time you’re in the restaurant. Look at that pile of pasta, rice and bread on your plate. Despite the size of the pile, is any of it giving you the whole grains you need?  Is there enough on your own plate for the whole family?


You can learn so much from preparing a food yourself. As an example, I’ll tell you a little story. I don’t make tamales, but I have purchased them many times – they are so tasty. A few years ago, I was visiting my daughter, who has become an expert tamale maker. She made them as a special dinner for us; she knew how I loved them. Oh dear! When I saw the amount of lard that went into a batch of tamales, I had a new outlook on how many and how often I wanted to include tamales in my diet. Cooking really does facilitate learning about where the calories are hiding.


We learn what makes the difference between acceptable and wonderful. I’ve cooked for many years and believe that herbs and spices are often the key part of the equation. In the recipe below for Spring Chicken Vegetable Soup, I believe that the tarragon is the key. Stocking the kitchen (pantry, refrigerator and freezer) makes it far more likely that you will actually cook – so if you haven’t done so already, start with clearing out junk food and stocking with whole, real foods that can be both healthy and yummy.


Stocking your kitchen with the foods that will make you successful.

  • Olive oil, onions and garlic
  • Herbs and spices
  • Chicken or vegetable stock
  • Brown rice and/or wheat berries
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Dried or canned beans
  • Canned tomatoes, I like low sodium diced recipe ready.
  • Yogurt – I enjoy the rich creaminess or zero-fat Greek yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Frozen fish, skinless chicken breasts – or canned versions
  • Frozen vegetables and fruit – if you run out of fresh, you’re prepared
  • Flavorful cheese for a light sprinkle on recipes – I have Parmesan, Feta and Bleu in the freezer. The freezer reduces loss to mold.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables: grapes, bananas, apples, cuties are really easy to eat for a really fast snack, in a hurry.
  • 100% Whole grain bread


If you learn just a couple of cooking techniques you can make a jillion variations that all seem original. If you are a novice cook, and many in America are, a few starting techniques that lend themselves to healthy eating are:

  • Making soups – see the recipe below to stimulate ideas for adaptations you can make to add variety.
  • Stir frying – Using a little extra virgin olive oil, a selection of fresh or frozen vegetables, tofu, shrimp, or slivers of chicken or meat. These lend themselves very well to meals with an increased proportion of vegetables. Serve on whole grain (brown rice or wheat berries, for example) and you have an easy Mediterranean-style meal. A good flavor starting point is garlic and ginger, with a little low sodium soy sauce.
  • Braising – a method of cooking without adding lots of fat.
  • Low fat skillet cooking – Consider purchasing a good non-stick skillet. With the slightest amount of oil, you can have the tastes of many deliciously grilled items.
  • Using slow cookers and rice cookers. It becomes an easy habit to start these cookers in advance for making items that take quite a bit of time, like brown rice or wheat berries. After cooking enough for several days, keep them in the freezer or refrigerator, ready to microwave or add to your stir-fry.
  • Double batching.  Cook enough, e.g., in a large casserole or cooking session, to use later as the main part of additional meals. With appetizing meals already prepared, you just walk in the door of the kitchen and defrost or heat in the microwave.
  • Putting together a main dish salad. Go to our website and get all kinds of ideas for making salads. Consider making Dr. Grandma’s Muffins Your Way (only 80 calories, plus the fruit/nuts/vegetables that you add); 100% whole organic hard red spring wheat and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Learn about the use of herbs and spices. This is where the cooking learning curve really takes off. Look at some of your favorite recipes and start with the herbs or spices used in those recipes. Some of the blends are a very nice place to start. I still use lemon pepper, and rotisserie spice. Rotisserie spice makes fish or chicken in a hurry, yet it tastes like you’ve spent time making an especially flavorful dish.


Think about cooking more of your meals – controlling your ingredients, calories and health. Spring can be such an exhilarating time of year. Maybe you’ve wanted to move your healthy behaviors up a notch – spring is in the air; it may be the perfect motivator to get you to take the first steps. Adding a few new cooking skills or a few new recipes to your cooking repertoire may be the beginning of real improved health. The efforts of each of us may lead to improved health for us as a nation.


Spring Chicken Vegetable Soup

How can you make a quick and healthy meal and still feel like a spring chicken when you’ve finished? If you need a recipe to start, the flavor of the quick soup below is really delicious. The following are some ideas:

  • If you don’t have the time to cook the chicken, just used canned chicken or turkey breast or cooked chicken tenders, chopped into bite-sized pieces.
  • Browned extra firm tofu is a nice option for this recipe; you could rename the recipe: Spring Beans and Vegetable Soup
  • Instead of the onions, carrots and celery in the example below, buy frozen vegetables and put in the ones your family enjoys. In the time or money question, fresh common vegetables like carrots, and celery cost less. But if time is the premium then get the frozen veggies; or mix fresh and frozen.
  • Below are the pictures and recipe of a soup that I made; if you’re just beginning you could start here. Eventually, you’ll try scallops, shrimp, or firm fish, pieces of red meat, burger, or a can or two of beans.
  • Broth-based soup is a wonderful meal to control for calories; that is, get full on fewer calories.
  • Fresh herbs are nice; grow and freeze your own, buy fresh from the market or use the dried herbs.
  • The point is that you can vary this type ‘recipe’ a hundred different ways. Once you’ve created the skill – it’s yours and you can make food under your own control of ingredients without a complex recipe.


1 ½ cup chopped onion

1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cups mushrooms, any variety (I used baby portabella.)

1 cup chopped parsley

1 tablespoon dried tarragon leaves (or savory, basil, or your favorite herb)

1/8 – ¼ teaspoon pepper, to taste

3 – 4 cups chopped carrots

2 cups sliced celery

12 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth

25 ounces canned chicken or turkey breast with broth



Sauté the onion and mushroom with the oil in a large soup pot, until lightly browned. Sprinkle with herbs, pepper and parsley. Add the carrots, celery and broth. Bring to a boil and reduce heat; simmer until the vegetables are tender. Add the chicken and heat until chicken is warmed.

Chop the onions

Onions in a nice heavy soup pot

Coarsely chopped mushrooms

Chop the fresh parsley or used dried

Add mushrooms, oil, dried herbs and pepper

Add fresh parsley, continue sautéing until onions and mushrooms are done.

Peel the carrots

Chop the carrots

Scrub the celery

Slice the celery

Add the chicken, broth, and veggies; cook until veggies are tender. Serve :-)

Speaking of Spring - the pictures below were taken on April 30, 2011.

Bell peppers are usually growing in these boxes.

Tomato grow box in lower left corner

Of course, we're not alone - the entire valley was covered with snow.

I went out to measure the four inches and later to feed the birds.