Holiday Gift Guide
Is your holiday gift list stumping you? The holidays are quickly approaching and it seems like each year they creep up with little warning, leaving me stressed about gift ideas (and often at the eleventh hour)! If you have a busy schedule, thinking about what to get your family and friends this holiday season can sometimes seem less joyous and more hectic, which is not what these gifts (or the holidays) should be about!! I rounded up some of my favorite go-to gift ideas to make the holidays a little less stressful. I added homemade gifts from the heart, as well as options for a larger budget so you can find that perfect gift that fits your lifestyle and shows your loved ones how much you care, no matter your financial situation. Plus, each gift idea keeps health and wellness in mind, because really, what better gift is there than the gift of health?
A class pack for their favorite fitness studio
A lot of fitness studios run specials this time of year, allowing this often pricey gift to be more budget-friendly. Some of my favorites include Pure Barre, Soul Cycle and Exhale! This can fit a range of budgets depending on the studio and the amount of classes you choose to purchase.
A new workout outfit
Sometimes motivation comes from within, and sometimes it comes from extrinsic factors, like being able to wear a new workout outfit! Also, for your fitness-minded friend, there’s a good chance s/he lives in activewear (athleisure, anyone??) and would love an extra outfit as a gift! Make this gift big (a whole ensemble, or a few!) or small (a headband, barre socks, a simple tank, etc.) based on your budget.
A gift card for their favorite activewear store (or any store, for that matter)
If you are unsure of their size or style, simply giving a gift card to their favorite store is an easy way to brighten their spirits, so they have some spending money to put toward something they love. Also, if your friend is a fitness instructor, they may receive a discount at some activewear stores, so they would probably prefer to utilize their discount and pick out an outfit that’s perfect for them! Even if they aren’t a fitness fanatic, this gift works well for those beginning on their fitness or health journey, so they can pick out a fun outfit for them to begin to reach their goals.
A homemade treat
I believe that food is love, and what better way to show someone you love them than to cook or bake a treat from the heart? One of my favorite baked goods to gift is my goji berry chocolate bark with roasted walnuts and white chocolate drizzle– for a sweet holiday treat with some health benefits (and it’s delicious, colorful, and so easy to package either in a mason jar or with a bag and a ribbon)!
For your friend who is also a chef (or is at least trying to navigate the kitchen better), a cookbook is always a heartfelt gift. It’s one of my favorite gifts to give, because it often adds to someone’s home decor (on a coffee table or in a kitchen hutch) and is so useful. Plus, your foodie friend will find it so thoughtful, and it can be personalized by choosing a book that matches their goals or interests.
This popular fashion accessory is also a great tool for fitness motivation and is perfect for your tech savvy friend (or even your not-so-tech-savvy friend, since it’s so user friendly)! Plus, there are so many cute styles since the first generation, so there’s sure to be one that fits your friend’s style.
A gift card to their favorite restaurant or a wine tasting event
I love this idea because it focuses on an experience rather than a material item and it also gives this person something to look forward to after the holiday season. This can be budget-friendly or pricey depending on your gifting needs, but it’s always a thoughtful gift!
There are so many fun headphones on the market now, and this gadget is a fitness lovers’ best friend, especially if they enjoy running or hitting the gym over studio classes. This is a gift they will utilize everyday and there are so many great options within a reasonable price range. My favorite are the beats wireless headphones – they stay in my ears throughout a tough sweat sesh, they don’t get tangled or hinder my running – plus, there are so many fun colors!
A spa treatment
The holidays are stressful – a massage, a mani/pedi or a facial helps to combat holiday (or post-holiday) stress and give your friend/family member some quality “me time” to enjoy at their leisure. You can usually purchase a gift card for either a specific service, or a specified amount – just be sure to include gratuity in your total!
An at-home spa gift basket
This is probably one of my personal favorite gifts to receive, because there is nothing I love more than lotions, scrubs, face masks and other beauty goodies! I like to pick and choose each item and put together my own gift basket to fit the person best. Lush is one of my favorite stores for this type of gift, and I’ve also been known to shop at local farmer’s markets and pick up body lotions made with essential oils and other feel-good beauty products. For a pricier item, Diptyque also has some amazing skin products and their famous candles are the perfect addition to round out any gift!
A kitchen gadget
Whether you gift a Nutribullet, another high-quality blender, an immersion blender, a juicer, a coffee gadget, or a gift basket that combines a few of these ideas, your foodie loving friend will likely be so excited to use their new kitchen gadget. This gift can also fit budgets large and small depending on what you choose. One of my favorite recent gifts is my Nespresso milk frother – its about $100 and allows me to make latte-style coffee and tea drinks in about 30 seconds, so I use it every morning! Plus, you only need to use about 1/4 C milk or milk substitute to create a creamy coffee.
Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season and a healthy, happy New Year!
Thankful for Health
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – being surrounded by family, friends and food and acknowledging the many things for which we are thankful. While it’s okay to indulge (it is a holiday, after all), it’s important to be thankful for our health, our ability to reach this season, and treat our bodies well so that they can continue to care for us. This year, I have a lot to be thankful for! I’m thankful for my fiancé, who keeps me strong, challenges me and loves me unconditionally. I’m also thankful for the fact that I’ll be gaining an additional family in a few short months, and thankful for my own family who has always supported me, through college and grad school, my initial endeavors as a dietitian, and always playing the role of guinea pig when I want to try out a new recipe! I’m thankful for my new home in Florida, all of my new friends, my old friends who continue to stay close regardless of being miles apart, and the ability to do what I love everyday.
I’m also thankful for my attitude toward food, as I’m aware that it does not come easy to many people, and it didn’t always come easy to me, either. Food should be enjoyed, not villainized, and celebrated for all that it can do for us, and we should aim to choose foods that will provide nutrition, as well as joy. In the midst of casseroles, cookies and pies, it can be difficult to navigate the Thanksgiving table with health in mind. Below are some tips so that you can eat your turkey (and pie), and enjoy it too!
- Start your day with some physical activity. Most of us consume more calories on Thanksgiving than on an average day, so burning some extra calories will help to offset the caloric intake to come. Also, exercise can allow you to burn some additional calories following your workout, although this amount is often small.
- Focus on veggies. That may seem difficult on Turkey Day, but there are so many seasonal veggies to choose from right now and they’ll help you to fill up with fiber, water and give you a good dose of vitamins and minerals! Some in-season veggies to consider making the star of the show include Brussels sprouts, kale, winter squash, cauliflower and cabbage. My favorite Brussels sprouts recipe is just as tasty as it is pretty!
- Turkey is a relatively lean protein, especially if you choose the breast meat (white meat). If you’re a turkey lover, feel free to enjoy the festive protein, keeping in mind that one 3 oz serving of poultry is approximately the size of a deck of cards.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking a glass of water and choosing foods that contain large amounts of water (like fruits and vegetables) can help you to feel more full, which means you may indulge less and keep portions reasonable. Also, if you’re drinking alcohol, make sure to alternate each drink with water and skip any high-sugar mixers.
- Choose whole grains over refined grains for side dishes. Try a recipe that features farro or quinoa (okay, so quinoa is technically a seed, but it’s consistency and properties are similar to a whole grain) for increased protein and fiber! Farro is my favorite, with a hearty, chewy texture that stands up to sauces and is also great on it’s own with some oil and veggies.
- Consider serving a veggie-based soup before the meal, such as my pureed roasted cauliflower soup. This seasonal soup tastes creamy and hearty, but it’s relatively low in calories and will fill you up so you don’t overdo it during the main event.
- Go for an evening stroll with some guests after dinner, which can help to stabilize blood sugar levels and add to your overall step count that day.
- Don’t be fooled by desserts with a health halo – an avocado brownie is still a brownie, although it is likely to be a better alternative since it will have increased monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Even if you offer some “healthified” dessert options, keep portions in check. Interested in sampling a few desserts because there are so many great options? Take small portions of a few and choose your favorite to possibly indulge in a larger piece. My favorite fall dessert? Pumpkin pie! Enjoy my favorite recipe here. More into chocolate? My chocolate goji bark is always a crowd pleaser!
Setting the Record Straight on Coconut Oil
Recently, the wellness community has been up in arms over the presidential advisory released by the American Heart Association (AHA) – it turns out coconut oil may not be the wellness superstar many people thought. The AHA advised that people limit sources of saturated fat, including coconut oil, because it may increase the risk of developing heart disease. However, the funny thing is – the news that sparked headlines and shook up the wellness community wasn’t really news at all.
Coconut oil is known to be a source of saturated fat. While it has been recommended for a long time to limit sources of saturated fat, the issue isn’t necessarily so clear cut. The AHA recommends limiting saturated fat to 6% or less of one’s daily caloric intake. Typically, it is recommended to consume approximately 30% of one’s calories from fat, meaning over 20% of fat consumed should be in the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated forms (although individual recommendations may vary). While saturated fat isn’t necessarily all bad (it does raise HDL cholesterol – the “good” kind of cholesterol, and we do need some in our diet because it plays an important role in the structural component of cells), it should be consumed in moderation, since it also increases LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Diets rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids are typically referred to as “heart-healthy” due to the cardio protective effect of these fats (for example: the Mediterranean style diet, which emphasizes leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish and olive oil).
Coconut oil is touted to be helpful for weight management, digestive woes and everything in between. It’s known for it’s medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are digested and absorbed differently than other fats. MCTs are absorbed quickly and bypass the long process typically required to break down and absorb fats, so they may be used clinically for patients who have malabsorption and have even been used as an ergogenic aid for athletes due to it’s perceived quick energy. However, the research that supports the use of MCT oil typically has used an oil that is far more rich in MCTs than traditional coconut oil. While coconut oil contains more MCTs than many other oils, it is not pure MCT oil. Additionally, the link between coconut oil and weight loss is not causative – that is, we do not have any evidence that proves that increasing coconut oil intake causes weight loss. There are many confounding variables that prevent this conclusion from being drawn. It is most likely that people who start using coconut oil and lose weight do so because they are
a) making many other dietary and lifestyle changes, as well
b) feeling satiated from the calories provided by the coconut oil, which can also be provided by other fat and food sources, and possibly limiting their overall caloric intake, which can aid in weight loss.
So, to consume coconut oil or not consume coconut oil – that is the question. Coconut oil is one type of many oils that can be incorporated into an overall healthy diet. In moderation, it can certainly be enjoyed. However, do I recommend loading it up in all of your meals, snacks and coffee? No.
So, unless you plan to lather it all over your body and hair, enjoy it in moderation .
Baked Spinach Artichoke Protein Pasta
Meal Prep is easiest when you can make a large batch of one thing that can last through the beginning of a crazy week. One of my favorite foods to prep in advance is pasta – it’s always great warmed up and holds up well in the fridge or the freezer. This recipe was originally presented at a Culinary Workshop class I recently helped to lead, and I adapted it, pumped up the protein with legume-based pasta and Greek yogurt and used my Skinny Spinach Artichoke Dip as a base to make it my own. The result was creamy, spinach artichoke deliciousness – and a ton of leftovers – perfect for a busy week ahead!
Ingredients (Serves 8):
8 oz legume-based pasta, dry (I used Banza pasta- a chickpea pasta with added pea protein!)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 C plain, 2% Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 C parmesan cheese, grated
3/4 C part-skim mozzarella, shredded
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp garlic powder
1 can (about 15 oz) artichoke hearts, drained well (if salted, rinse and drain to remove excess sodium)
3 Cups frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
1/4 C low sodium vegetable broth
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Nonstick oil cooking spray
- Bring a large pot of water to boil (add a dash of salt if desired).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- While water is boiling, squeeze out any excess water from the spinach and artichokes (they must be dry before adding to recipe). Set aside.
- Heat oil in medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add onion, stir and sauté for about 4-5 minutes. Add minced garlic, stir, and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Add pasta to boiled water and cook according to directions on package, stirring occasionally. Watch the pasta closely, as many legume-based pastas can get mushy quickly! Be careful not to overcook.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt, flour, spices (paprika, garlic powder, ground black pepper), parmesan cheese and about 1/4 of the mozzarella cheese. Add spinach, artichokes, onion/garlic mixture and vegetable broth and stir until ingredients are well combined.
- Once pasta is cooked, drain in a colander and add to mixing bowl. Stir all ingredients until pasta is coated well with yogurt mixture.
- Spray a casserole dish (9 x 13 inches) with nonstick cooking spray, add pasta and yogurt mixture to dish and spread evenly with a spoon or spatula. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, remove from oven, add the remaining mozzarella cheese on top of the pasta and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted. Serve and enjoy!
The Goods: What’s Inside?
Nutritional Analysis Per Serving: Calories 262 calories, Total Fat 8 g, Saturated Fat 4 g, Cholesterol 15 mg, Carbohydrates 29 g, Fiber 7 g, Protein 19 g, Sodium 318 mg, Calcium 274 mg
Cauliflower Fried Rice
This “fried rice” takes care of that comfort-food craving, without all of the calories. This veggie-filled dish is topped with eggs and chicken – lean protein sources that are sure to fill you up – and comes in at about 300 calories per serving!
Ingredients (serves 4):
1 1/2 lbs. cauliflower “rice” (you can buy this at many grocery stores, or you can simply cut a large head of cauliflower into small pieces)
1 lb. chicken breast cutlets
1 medium sweet onion (or you can use scallions), chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3/4 C carrots, sliced
1/2 C frozen peas, thawed
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp teriyaki sauce ( I like Trader Joe’s Soyaki) – just watch out for sodium and sugar!
Nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray
Dash ground black pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, scrambled (raw)
- Cut chicken into small pieces. Spray large saucepan or wok with nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray. Add 2 tsp olive oil and warm over medium heat. Add chicken and 1 1/2 Tbsp teriyaki sauce and cook until cooked through (about 10-15 minutes), stirring occasionally. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
- Steam carrots (you can use a steamer or place in microwave safe bowl, add a splash of water, cover and cook on “high” for about 2 minutes, until softened and bright.
- Add 1 tsp olive oil to pan and warm over medium heat. Add onions, zucchini, yellow squash and spices (ground black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder) and cook until softened, about 10-12 minutes. Add minced garlic, peas, carrots and another 2 teaspoons teriyaki sauce. Cook another 5-7 minutes, remove from pan and add to dish with chicken.
- Add remaining olive oil and remaining teriyaki sauce to pan and warm over medium-high heat. Add cauliflower “rice”and sauté for approximately 5 minutes. Add scrambled eggs and stir until cooked through. Add chicken and veggies, stir until well combined and remove from heat. Serve and enjoy!
The Goods: What’s Inside?
Nutritional Analysis Per Serving:
Calories 300 calories, Total Fat 9 g, Saturated Fat 2 g, Cholesterol 112 mg, Carbohydrates 23 g, Fiber 7 g, Protein 35 g, Sodium 431 mg, Calcium 96 mg
Whole Wheat Cous Cous With Chickpeas, Edamame and Peanuts in a Peanut Butter Sauce
This take-out inspired dish is filled with peanut butter-y goodness and offers a fun, different way to enjoy vegetarian protein. Filled with fiber, protein and lower in calories and sodium than traditional take-out, this homemade version will become your new busy night go-to dish!
Ingredients (serves 6):
Peanut Butter Teriyaki Sauce:
1/3 C natural, creamy peanut butter
2 Tbsp teriyaki sauce (I like Trader Joe’s Soyaki Sauce)
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 C water
1/2 tsp hot sauce (I like Cholula or Frank’s Red Hot)
dash crushed red pepper flakes (depends how hot you like it!)
dash ground ginger
*optional: ~1/2 tsp honey to create a sweeter peanut sauce (not included in nutritional analysis)
1 C whole wheat cous cous, dry
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 C carrots, shredded
1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans (try to find a brand with no added salt – or rinse and strain beans to remove excess salt)
1/4 C edamame, shelled, unsalted and ready-to-eat
5 oz baby bok choy (about 4-5 baby bok choy)
2 Tbsp water
1/4 C peanuts, roasted and unsalted (just the kernels)
*Note: Depending on whether or not you use a nonstick skillet, you may want to add either a nonstick vegetable oil spray or a small amount of olive oil to your skillet in the third step (while you add the spoonful of sauce). If adding olive oil, note that 1 Tbsp olive oil has about 120 calories and 14 grams of fat (this is not accounted for below in the nutritional analysis).
- Mix all sauce ingredients in a medium bowl until well-combined. Set aside.
- Cook the cous cous according to box directions (I bring 1 C water to a boil, add 1 C dry cous cous, stir, remove from heat, cover and allow to sit for about 5-7 minutes, until all water is absorbed and cous cous is fluffy).
- Add a small spoonful of peanut sauce to a large skillet or wok and heat over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, carrots and chickpeas and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and slightly browned.
- Add edamame, baby bok choy and 2 Tbsp water, stir and cover for approximately 3-5 minutes, until baby bok choy is bright green and softened. Add peanuts, stir and cook another 2-3 minutes, uncovered.
- Add cous cous and the remaining peanut sauce to skillet and mix all ingredients until well combined. Serve and enjoy!
The Goods: What’s Inside?
Nutritional Analysis Per Serving
Calories 321 calories, Total Fat 11 g, Saturated Fat 2 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Carbohydrates 39 g, Fiber 7 g, Protein 14 g, Sodium 438 mg, Calcium 82 mg