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9 Tricks To Make Halloween A Treat

by | Oct 22, 2012

Photo by pasukaru76

With extra candy, alcohol and fun everywhere, there is no point in pretending health will be your top priority by the time the weekend rolls around. But that’s a good thing.

Being healthy is important, but if you don’t learn to make room in your life for fun too then what’s the point?

My challenge to you is to use this Halloween weekend as an opportunity to practice rational indulgence. That is, enjoy things you have a reason to enjoy (i.e. foods you like) in quantities that leave you satisfied, but don’t abandon your health or get too obsessive about what you should or should not eat.

This is not the same as practicing “moderation” (an overused word, in my opinion). Instead I’m talking about a head change. Generally the term moderation is used to mean restraint for restraint’s sake. On Halloween this might involve consciously eating only half a cookie or counting out pieces of candy for your allowance.


Moderation is fine for daily life, especially when you are just learning to cook and eat healthy foods. But equally important is getting in tune with the real reasons you eat: taste, pleasure and enjoyment, and using this awareness to guide your behavior and create natural boundaries.

Embrace Halloween as a special occasion for you to live and enjoy, while understanding that this is not the first nor will it be the last time you get to eat a cupcake. There is no need to go out of your way to be “good” or “bad.” Just have fun and try not to think in terms of guilt or temptation. It is thoughts like these which lead to too many drinks and eating that entire bowl of peanut butter cups on your friend’s coffee table.

But, of course, for rational indulgence to mean anything it requires a context of healthy eating. If your typical daily food intake isn’t already mostly healthy, then Halloween isn’t really an indulgence so much as an excuse. But that doesn’t mean this advice isn’t applicable to you. No matter what your baseline, it is easier to indulge rationally if you are well-nourished and in the right state of mind.

Strive for the general goal of eating healthy, nourishing and satisfying foods and feel free to add a few Halloween treats along the way.

Here are 9 strategies to help make rational indulgence a little easier.

9 Tricks To Make Halloween A Treat

  1. Leave your guilt at the door. Halloween will probably not be ideal for your health, but if you are going to indulge you may as well enjoy it.
  2. Eat what you want, but not any more than that. Remember that indulgence is not a race. You don’t need to eat everything in sight just because you allow yourself a couple days off. Stop occasionally and ask yourself if you are eating for pleasure or from compulsion.
  3. Do not skip meals. Halloween usually involves late night parties and candy, things that should not interfere too much with your regularly scheduled food program. Trying to eat light during the day to compensate for eating junk food later will probably just cause you to eat even more junk when you find yourself starving at 2am—not a wise strategy.
  4. Have a healthy, satisfying dinner. You would be surprised how easy it is to skip the third mini-Snickers if you are not hungry or are even a little full. Better to be full of stir fry than trans fat and sugar.
  5. Eat protein, vegetables and healthy fats before you go out. The main danger on Halloween is sugar. Too much sugar causes blood sugar to rise and insulin to skyrocket. Ultimately this leads to insulin resistance, weight gain and more hunger. To avoid this, slow down the digestion process by eating healthy foods first.
  6. Easy on the carbs. You will probably be getting more than your fair share of sugars and starches this weekend. Minimize extraneous carbohydrates in your meals by skipping bread and pasta. Limit carbohydrates to vegetables, fruit and legumes.
  7. Keep moving. One easy way to make up ground if you are eating extra calories is to burn them off as you go. If you are out at a party, be sure to keep moving. Walk to your destination, play Halloween Twister and be the last to leave the dance floor.
  8. Brush up. Toothpaste can make candy taste pretty bad, so be sure to brush and rinse with fluoride before you leave your house and as soon as you get home. Sugar is also really bad for your teeth.
  9. Be safe. No matter what you do or do not eat, it is always important to make good decisions when you go out on the town. Be smart and make it home in one piece or none of this advice will do you any good.

How do you practice rational indulgence?

Originally published October 28, 2009.

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8 Tips For Drinking Less Without Your Friends Knowing

by | Aug 6, 2012

Photo by David Long

I have nothing against people who like to party. Partying is really fun, and a lot of the time I’m right there leading the crusade.

But we all know those people who really like to drink, and like to do it often. Not only do these guys take their own drinking a little too far, they’re experts at pressuring others to keep up with them drink-for-drink. And they’ll use mockery, guilt, generosity, logic, peer pressure and dozens of other tactics to get everyone around them to keep the party going.

These friends are fun to have, until they aren’t. As fun as it is to party, sometimes you want to go out and have a good time without regretting it the next day. Hangovers have their time and place, but when you have real responsibilities it is nice to have a way to hit it a little less hard, preferably without drawing attention to your secret plan.

Feel free to mix and match these tricks, different situations call for different lines of defense.

8 Tips For Drinking Less Without Your Friends Knowing

1. Alternate with water

This is a tried and true way to both cut back on alcohol and stay hydrated, thereby preventing a hangover. Every drink or two, go to the bar and ask for some water. You don’t need to make excuses for this, you’re thirsty and will get another drink in a second. Just be sure to finish the waters and feel free to take your time.

2. Drink clear liquids

Clear liquids like gin and vodka look like melting ice. So if you don’t want to finish every drink that comes your way, you can always leave a little extra in your old glass and no one will notice you aren’t tossing back as many as they are.

3. Order drinks that look like alcohol (but aren’t)

Another advantage of clear liquids. Vodka soda with lime is my favorite go-to drink on late nights, and it’s awesome for several reasons. Besides being easily palatable and sugar free, you also have the option of leaving out the vodka all together. Just order a club soda with lime and ask the bartender to make it look like a cocktail—they’re usually more than happy to comply.

4. Be forgetful

You don’t have to be limited to clear liquids to abandon the occasional half-full glass. Leave your drink on the bar, in the bathroom, on a random table or anywhere it won’t attract attention. That way when someone offers you another, you’re ready.

5. Drink light beer

If you’re a beer drinker and all this clear liquid talk is making you squirm, never fear. There is a huge difference in alcohol content of beers, with light beers coming in around 4% alcohol and some fancy Belgians topping out at over 10%. You do the math.

If you know you’ll have to get through more than you’ve bargaining for, opt for lighter beers. If you’re like me and think Bud Light tastes like donkey pee, go with a Mexican beer like Corona and add a lime. I can drink those all night and barely get a buzz going—and I’m little.

6. Master the shot spit

Drinking nights often don’t turn crazy until someone starts ordering shots, then it’s all over. Bartenders have this problem too, since drunk people often think they’ve found a new best friend and gratefully buy their server shots throughout the night. To avoid getting hammered on the job, bartenders keep a half empty pint of beer nearby and pretend to use it as a chaser but really spit shots back into it.

If you know your friends are likely to “surprise” everyone with shots be sure to have a nearby water glass or pint that you’re nursing. Use the old bartenders’ trick and no one will suspect. I know it’s gross, but it works. Just remember to not actually drink the beer later.

7. Show up late

Sometimes special occasions are specifically set aside for excessive drinking. If you need to make an appearance but would rather not sacrifice your liver, show up 45-60 minutes late. Everyone will already be one drink ahead of you.

8. Order half shots

If you’re in charge of ordering your own drinks and vodka soda isn’t your thing, ask for your regular cocktail but request a half shot instead of the normal full. You’ll still get the fun of drinking, but each drink will contribute less to tomorrow’s headache.

What are your favorite tricks for drinking less without your friends knowing?

Originally published June 29, 2011.

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6 Tips For Not Regretting Your 4th of July BBQ

by | Jun 27, 2012
Blueberries & Raspberries

Blueberries & Raspberries

Holidays are for celebrating and are meant to be enjoyed, but you don’t have to sacrifice your health or beach body every time you attend a BBQ. These 6 BBQ survival tips can save you hundreds of calories you won’t even miss, and keep your health and fitness goals on track.

6 Healthy Eating Tips For Your 4th of July BBQ

1. Use small plates

Research clearly shows that people who choose smaller plates and utensils eat less without even noticing it. The difference can be as substantial as 50% fewer calories consumed, yet everyone reports the same level of fullness and satisfaction. Try borrowing a plate from the kids table or the dessert tray.

2. Eat slowly and mindfully

People who eat more slowly eat fewer calories over the course of a meal. BBQs are a perfect opportunity to pace yourself as you mix and mingle with friends and family. The more you’re chatting, the less you’re eating.

3. Eat healthiest foods first

If you are eating slowly and off small plates, you may as well fill up on the healthiest stuff first. Salads are a great place to start because watery vegetables slow digestion and have very few calories. Try to choose something with oil and protein as well, because these will help you feel full sooner.

4. Skip the chips, crackers and bread

Refined carbohydrates are the worst things you can eat because they offer little satisfaction, loads of calories and dangerous insulin spikes. BBQs are filled with wonderful food, so do yourself a favor and save your calories for the really good stuff.

You don’t have to eat your burger without a bun, but pass on the pointless chips and other snacks that lure you when you’re not thinking. If you’re feeling bored, grab a Frisbee instead.

5. Keep dessert small

The difference between a large slice of cake and a smaller slice of cake can literally be hundreds of calories. And to reiterate, sugar and refined carbohydrates are the most dangerous foods. You don’t have to pass on dessert completely, but keep your portion sizes in check for this course.

6. Think before you drink

There is a place for alcohol in a healthy lifestyle, but making smart choices can be the difference between losing or gaining weight (not to mention your self-control). One sugary margarita can have 600-800 calories. That means 3 margaritas is more food than you should be consuming in an entire day. Is that really worth it? Stick with wine or beer, drink plenty of water and remember to pace yourself.

Small tricks can save you hundreds and potentially thousands of wasted calories that you will never notice or miss. Why sacrifice a good time when you can just upgrade your healthstyle?

What are your favorite tips to eat healthy at a BBQ?

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Foodist Recalibration

by | Jan 1, 2012
Photo by o5com

Photo by o5com

It’s been a rough couple of months. I’ve been out of town almost every weekend since the beginning of November, and sadly can’t remember the last time I went to my beloved farmers market.

Though the traveling was fun, I couldn’t be happier to ring in 2012 with a fresh start. I don’t diet or “cleanse” (I’ve yet to hear a scientific explanation of what that actually means), but I’m taking the first two weeks of January to eat extra healthy and recalibrate back to my regular happy self.

I have just three simple rules I’ll be sticking to. Of course my emphasis will be on eating lots of healthy vegetables, fish, legumes, pastured meats, fermented foods, etc. But to really get back on track I’ll also be temporarily eliminating the three most inflammatory (and weight loss unfriendly) foods.

Summer Tomato’s Health Recalibration

1. No sugar.

Everyone knows sugar is bad for you. And although I believe there’s a place for small amounts of it in a healthy diet, I’ll be living without any added sugar for the next two weeks.

If you plan on following along, I’d also recommend avoiding sugar substitutes. Calorie-free sweeteners have never been shown to assist with weight loss, and you aren’t doing yourself any favors by keeping your palate craving overly sweet foods. If you’re desperate for a little treat during this time, fruit is your best bet.

2. No wheat.

I typically limit my bread consumption to about once or twice a week, but for the next two weeks I’ll be going without it completely. Wheat is incredibly inflammatory and is associated with a huge range of health problems. Eliminating wheat and gluten, wheat’s main protein, for awhile gives your body a chance to heal from the damage done over the holiday season.

If you suspect you might be sensitive to gluten, two weeks might not be enough of a break to get you back to feeling normal. Four to eight weeks without it is what is typically recommended to test for sensitivity, so feel free to extend past two weeks if you’re troubleshooting health problems like fatigue, depression, arthritis or digestive issues.

I recommend avoiding all processed flours during recalibration, but you carbohydrate lovers still have lots of delicious options to get you through. I’ll be relying on rice, quinoa, potatoes and legumes to keep me from being a cranky low-carber. If you absolutely must eat pasta during the recalibration, there are plenty of good gluten-free options. Quinoa pastas aren’t too bad, and rice noodles are also usually gluten-free.

Keep in mind if you want to go fully gluten-free you should also skip barley. Oats don’t contain wheat gluten but are often contaminated during processing. Gluten-free oats are available at some stores.

Lastly, remember that soy sauce is made with wheat and contains gluten. A gluten-free option called tamari is an excellent substitute that basically tastes the same.

3. No dairy.

This one will be the hardest for me since cheese, yogurt and the occasional half-and-half do make regular appearances in my diet. However, dairy can make insulin regulation difficult and it can help to cut it out for a couple weeks.

Eliminating dairy products can help with other problems as well. Cow’s milk is the only food that is directly linked to acne. It can also be an inhibitor to weight loss, even in very small amounts. Like gluten, dairy can also trigger inappropriate immune responses, making it particularly problematic for people with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.

For milk lovers, I recommend almond milk or coconut milk as tasty substitutes, just be sure you get the unsweetened varieties. Here’s why I don’t usually drink soy milk.

4. Alcohol

I love me a glass of nice wine or a well-crafted artisan cocktail. I drink alcohol fairly regularly, and there is a good amount of evidence that it protects against coronary heart disease. Though there have been reports about alcohol increasing cancer incidence, the risks are typically mitigated by a healthy diet that contains plenty of folic acid.

So why do I recommend a two week break from the sauce? For starters, alcohol lowers your inhibition and makes it much harder to stick to the recalibration. It’s hard enough, you don’t need any extra excuses. The more important reason, however, is alcohol’s effect on your liver. Like fructose (the sugar molecule that is processed by the liver), alcohol promotes body fat accumulation and insulin resistance. For recalibration to be effective, you’ll need to be a teetotaler for at least two weeks. Sorry.

I started on January 1, but Monday January 2, is probably a more reasonable start date for most of you.

Who’s with me?

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Summer Tomato Holiday Wish List 2011

by | Dec 12, 2011

Photo by WTL photos

It’s time to start holiday shopping for all the wonderful healthy foodies in your life. My goal this year was to be extra creative and come up with an interesting and useful mix of items that I personally adore. I also tried to hit a range of price points.

Hopefully there’s some stuff in here you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. Happy shopping!

The 2011 Summer Tomato Holiday Wish List

1. Fitbit ($99)

Paying more attention to my daily activity has been the most positive behavioral change I’ve made this year. Since the Jawbone Up is no longer an option, my pedometer endorsement this holiday season goes to the awesome Fitbit pedometer.

Though the web interface and social features aren’t the greatest, there is a beautiful simplicity in the Fitbit’s ability to show you your daily steps at the push of a button. The latest version also shows you how many flights you’ve climbed, a nice feature for those of us who pride ourselves on taking the stairs whenever possible. I wear mine everywhere.

2. Harsch Gairtopf Fermenting Crock Pot – 5 Liter ($119.95)

What better way to get more probiotics into your diet than doing your own lactofermentation? We’ve been making our own sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi at home using this 5 liter fermenting crock pot. The biggest worry when doing this stuff on your own is contamination. This device is clever because you fill the seal with water, which allows gas to escape but doesn’t allow any air inside.

We’ve tried several methods of fermentation at home, and this is by far our favorite. It is way easier than it sounds, and the sauerkraut we’ve made is superior to anything we’ve ever found at the store or the farmers market. Bye bye stomach aches.

3. Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, by Sandor Ellix Katz ($14.48)

If you do decide to dabble in home fermentation (or are just curious and want to learn more before trying it out) you should also pick up this book. It was recommended to me personally by Michael Pollan, and is the definitive and most accessible book on the subject.

4. Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, by Nathan Myhrvoid ($450.15)

Arguably the most amazing food book ever created, Modernist Cuisine combines breathtaking photography with cutting edge science and foolproof recipes. Created by the former CTO of Microsoft, this ostentatiously 1% item is the epitome of awesome for the special foodie in your life.

5. Bodum Bistro Automatic Gravity Activated Salt and Pepper Grinder ($39.74)

This is admittedly a little ridiculous, but the way it works is clever and I think it would make a great gift, particularly for guys getting into cooking (my boyfriend thinks it’s the coolest thing in our entire the kitchen). Basically it is both a salt and pepper grinder that creates perfectly calibrated seasoning by just tilting it over your food. It works really well and I’ve liked it way more than I expected.

6. Sleep Mate ($54.95)

Few things are as valuable as a good night’s sleep. If you’ve ever had trouble sleeping, particularly if you’re sensitive to background noise, the Sleep Mate really can help by creating soothing, ambient background noise. It’s like a blanket for your ears.

7. Withings WiFi Body Scale ($159)

When this scale first came out a couple years ago I thought it was a joke. Why would anyone want their scale to tweet out their weight to the world? But while the social feature got the most attention in the press, it is an optional feature (I opted out) and the scale is actually really cool.

The Withings scale talks wirelessly to your computer, creating simple to understand graphical displays of your weight and body fat over time. It can even tell the difference between different people in the house just by stepping on it. I was skeptical of the body fat readings, but I’ve found them to be very similar to measurements I’ve had from hydrostatic testing. And as long as you weigh yourself at the same time every day in the same outfit (aka first thing in the morning in your birthday suit) then the readings are consistent and can be a great way to track progress over time.

8. Bodum Pavina Double-Wall Thermo Tea/Coffee Cup (set of 2, $14)

Not only do these insulated cups look amazing, they keep your tea or coffee remarkably warm without heating the glass enough to burn your hands. We swear by them.

9. Sous Vide Supreme ($399)

By far one of the coolest cooking methods around, sous vide gives you the ultimate control when cooking meats and vegetables. It’s pricey (though it has dropped about $100 in the past year), but if you can afford it and are obsessed with food it is a fabulous addition to the kitchen.

Related: You may also want to pick up the vacuum sealer ($129.99) and some vacuum bags ($19.99) to get started.

10. Nesco 700 Watt Food Dehydrator ($59.49)

Baked kale chips are good, but dehydrated ones are even better and last longer. With a food dehydrator you can make your own dried fruit, vegetables and even beef jerky to your own preferences (cranberries without sugar!). Definitely go with this higher-powered device over the cheaper ones, you’ll get more consistent results in way less time.

Need more ideas? Check out last year’s list.

What do you want for Christmas?

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Feeding A Crowd: 10 Tips for Healthy Entertaining

by | Dec 9, 2011

Photo by star5112

Sarah Newkirk is a New Hampshire native, Brooklyn booster, brand strategist, aspiring nurse practitioner, eternal student, inept yoga enthusiast and reformed picky eater committed to healthy living. She just started blogging at

Feeding A Crowd: 10 Tips for Healthy Entertaining

The holiday season is in full swing, which means many of us are stepping up and taking our turn at hosting a party. It’s also a time of year when culinary temptations are kicked up a notch, leading many of us to stray from the healthy habits we’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

When you’re in charge of the menu, why not offer your guests healthier options and even a nudge in the right direction? Many people secretly welcome the chance to take a night off from overindulgence. When done right, they won’t notice anything other than the amazing food and great time.

Here are some tips on how to prepare and serve up a healthy, satisfying and festive spread when entertaining large groups:

1. Plan ahead

Even if you’re comfortable in the kitchen, cooking for larger groups than you’re used to can be intimidating. But really it’s easier than you think, and with careful planning you’ll pull it off without a hitch. Do some reconnaissance early, and plan a well-balanced meal around what’s fresh and in season. Concentrate on foods that hold up well and can be served at room temperature. Schedule in a test run the weekend before if you’re making a recipe for the first time.

2. Do in advance

Do as much of the prepping and cooking as you can in the days leading up to the big event. On the day of, you should be focused on reheating (slowly, so that you don’t go overboard and restart the cooking process), assembly and other final touches. This will help you keep on schedule and ensure you’re not a cranky mess when your guests show up.

Braised meats, baked beans and most soups actually taste better on the second or third day after they are cooked. One of my staples is a main-course chickpea and leek soup with pancetta that holds up extremely well for at least three days. All I do the day I serve it is reheat, grill some bread and make a green salad.

Two days before the party, make your dips and sauces and cook your beans and grains. One day before, cut and roast your veggies and make grain-based salads like this one. Shrimp cocktail (a party classic for a reason) should be cooked the day before to allow it time to thoroughly chill in the fridge.

Most desserts can be prepared a day or two in advance, then either served chilled or baked off after the party is underway. A few weeks ago I made this dessert for a few friends (adding an extra apple and skipping the whipped cream). It took me less than 10 minutes to warm up the apples and layer the two components into serving glasses as everyone was finishing up dinner.

Some things need to be done the day of the party, like frying, dressing a fresh vegetable salad and anything involving foods that visibly oxidize (e.g. avocados and raw apples.) Keep this list of tasks manageable and you won’t get in over your head.

3. Serve reasonable quantities of food

Most people make way too much food when entertaining, usually out of a combination of poor planning (see tip 1) and the fear of being judged a bad host in the unlikely event the food runs out. Resist the temptation. You’re not doing your guests any favors by making them feel obligated to stuff their faces. Develop a realistic estimate of what you’ll need based on the anticipated headcount, and proceed accordingly. If serving buffet style, set out reasonable quantities and refill when the food runs low.

4. Make it yourself

In a convenience-driven world, taking the time to make things from scratch showcases your love of food and makes your guests feel special. When they know it’s homemade, people will slow down and savor their food, helping with portion control.

Even if you’re relying on prepared food to make things easier (nothing wrong with that), try your hand at making your own dressings, toppings and condiments. They’ll lend a homemade (or, dare I say, Semi-Homemade – hey, it’s not a terrible concept) feel to the entire dish, impress your guests with your rock-star kitchen skills, and can often be made days or even weeks in advance. One of my favorites is ketchup: so much better than commercial versions, and I’ll bet you’ll prefer making it, like I do, with a fraction of the sugar.

5. Let your guests know what’s on the menu

If your guests are left to guess whether a full dinner will be served or if the appetizers are the meal, they’ll probably go to town on the cheese platter and regret it later. Make a menu card and set it on the serving table at the beginning of the night, and let the anticipation build.

6. Server lighter, more nutritious appetizers

Appetizers laden with empty calories are dietary Kryptonite, setting the stage for a night of overeating. Start the evening with a more satisfying mix of fats and proteins that won’t overwhelm the appetite. Spiced nuts, black bean dip, guacamole and devilled eggs are all great options.

Include more decadent options in the mix if that’s what you love to cook, just make them filling, nutrient-rich and worth the indulgence. Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with cheese and almonds have been known to cause normally even-keeled guests to nearly collapse with delight, and they’re rich enough that most people will consume in moderation. Anything that good has a place in my world and on my menu as a special-occasion treat.

Bread, crackers and chips are a popular foundation for many appetizers, but are typically (not always) low in nutritional value. If they’re nothing more than an edible personal serving platter and not adding much flavor or texture, consider swapping in lighter options. Some to try: cucumber cups, lettuce leaves, apple slices, water crackers or toothpick skewers.

7. Offer non-alcoholic beverage options

Rather than make hydration seekers rifle around in your kitchen, set out a pitcher of water and appropriate glassware alongside the liquor. Guests with a morning meeting, unannounced early-stage pregnancy or just the desire to take it easy will appreciate a non-alcoholic option that is still fun. I mix seltzer with cherry syrup and add limes for a homemade cherry-lime ricky.

8. Give healthier options an upgrade

Treats do a good job at selling themselves, while healthy options might need some help to compete. Think contrasting colors and textures, unexpected sweet-and-savory combinations, and big flavors that satisfy in smaller quantities. Remember back to something truly exceptional you ate at a restaurant, and search online for a similar recipe. Put some time into creating food that’s as visually appealing as it is delicious.

Make it accessible as well: any guest who respects the integrity of a host’s upholstery (not to mention his or her own clothing) will shy away from food that’s awkward to eat. Cut your veggies bite-sized, pre-slice the meat into easily speared pieces, and serve sauces on the side.

9. Serve the food earlier …

Food at parties is often served later than most people are used to eating (largely due to lack of planning on the part of the host—see tip 1 again). This means your guests are probably drinking on an empty stomach, which speeds alcohol absorption. Late-night eating is also linked to weight gain.

Be nice to your guests and start putting the food out by 8 (7 if you live in an early-dining town.)

10. … and put it away when the time comes

After it’s been a few hours and everyone’s had ample time to eat, bring the food to the kitchen and pack it up. I set my iPhone alarm as a reminder, as I’m normally enjoying my own party too much at that point to remember. Don’t worry about the late arrivals; odds are they double-booked and already dined elsewhere.

You’ll get a head start on clean up and save your guests the indignity of picking at an already picked-over spread after a few too many cocktails (I’ve certainly been there).

At its best, this time of year is about being generous, slowing down and enjoying time with the people you care about. I feel fortunate to have enough food to share. When it’s your turn to host, good luck and have fun.

What are your tricks and tips for healthy entertaining?

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Thanksgiving Healthy Eating Tip: Slow Down

by | Nov 14, 2011

Photo by Photo Monkey

Worrying about carbs, calories and diets is one of the most unproductive things you can do on a holiday that celebrates thankfulness. Instead of giving you a list of healthy side dishes or tips on how to cut out calories, this Thanksgiving I offer just a single piece of advice: slow down.

The actual content of your Thanksgiving dinner matters very little in the grand scheme of things. A few hundred calories here or there can make a difference when projected over weeks and years, but for one meal the impact is negligible. Your body will adjust naturally and you’ll burn off those extra calories the next day, so don’t worry about it.

But for people trying to get healthy or lose weight, not worrying about food can feel very strange. There is always the fear that if you aren’t vigilant and conscious of what and how much you eat you may gorge yourself stupid and all your hopes of fitting into your favorite jeans by the end of the year will be ruined.

Overeating is certainly a possibility when food anxiety is a constant force in your life, but Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to start getting over it. Really. It may seem counterintuitive that such a food-forward holiday can be stress free, but let’s not forget that the real point of Thanksgiving isn’t turkey or pie, but being thankful.

Since most of us won’t be harvesting our own meals this year (hats off to anyone who is), it is silly to pretend this particular dinner requires more thankfulness than any other meal we eat. Turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce are tradition, but do not necessarily reflect our 21st century needs and values.

With the emergence of modern media, there are other essential pieces of our lives that we can no longer afford to take for granted. Free time is one. Exercise is another. But most important of all these is our real, human, non-Twitter relationships, particularly those with family and friends. It is far too easy to neglect these basic elements of our existence when we have so many other obligations and distractions, but failure to nurture them can severely affect our overall quality of life.

If you care about your health and want to keep your eating under control on Thanksgiving, why not focus your attention on strengthening relationships and spending time with the people you care about? Instead of worrying about yourself and what you want to accomplish, ask people about themselves and discuss mutual interests.

Let food be part of the celebration, but not the purpose of your day.

Once food is no longer the center of attention the only thing you need to keep in mind is to eat slowly–it is pretty tough to overeat if you are biting and chewing at a snail’s pace.

Slow eating helps you eat less food and appreciate it more. It also helps you make wiser food choices, since decisions about what to put on your plate are made less impulsively.

But slow eating does require some conscious effort. If you are in the habit of shoveling food in your mouth without taking time to put down your fork and chew (or breathe), it is easy to slip back into this pattern. Also, if people around you are all guzzling their food in a fury, you might feel a natural compulsion to keep pace and match their eating speed.

I’ve written before about how to become a slow eater, but at large family dinners some of these tactics can be particularly useful. Start by actively trying to keep conversations engaged while you eat. Chewing and talking are (hopefully) mutually exclusive, so the more you converse the longer it will take you to get through your meal.

Making an effort to put your fork down between bites is another effective way to slow your pace at the dining table. To give your hands something to do between bites, reach for your glass and take regular sips of your water (it is best not to rely exclusively on wine for this tactic) or wipe your lips with your napkin.

And don’t forget to chew.

Trying to eat slowly is much easier than trying to summon the will power to skip the mashed potatoes and biscuits. And slowly savoring the foods you love is far more enjoyable than inventing a clever recipe to replace the sugar or fat in your pumpkin pie.

Spend time with people, enjoy your meal and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

How do you approach health and food on Turkey Day?

Originally published November 23, 2009.

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Summer Tomato Holiday

by | Dec 19, 2010

Toaster or Santa's Little Helper?

The pouring rain and a deep-rooted need for sleep (not to mention upcoming travels) kept me from going to the farmers market this weekend, so I decided to start my vacation a little early.

The Summer Tomato holiday break begins today and will continue at least through next weekend. I can’t imagine not having something to say before the New Year, but I’m still not exactly sure when I’ll be back.

In the meantime, have a great holiday and feel free to follow my crazy adventures with Toaster on Twitter (@summertomato) and Instagram (@daryapino)–where my puppy just had a new filter named after him.



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Holiday Gift Ideas For Healthy Foodies

by | Dec 6, 2010

Photo by Jenah Crump Photography

Foodies are fun to shop for, it’s so easy to make us happy.

Offer me an evening of tasty food? I’m psyched. Get me something to cook you delicious food? I’m just as psyched. It’s win win.

Shopping for a foodie who wants to be healthy is just as easy. We’re not about deprivation, so we’re mostly talking about education materials and gym accessories. And of course, more cooking supplies.

This is my list of top healthy foodie gift ideas for 2010. Some are new, and some are old standbys that never go out of style. I tried to cover a variety of price points, I hope you enjoy.

Holiday Gift Ideas For Healthy Foodies

1. Foodzie tasting box, 3-month subscription ($55)

In my opinion, this is the coolest foodie gift idea I’ve seen in years. If you aren’t familiar with Foodzie, it’s an online marketplace for the best artisan food producers. The only problem with Foodzie is that they have so much delicious sounding foods all the time that making up your mind can sometimes be impossible. This solves the problem by sending you a few samples each month, giving you a little taste of everything. If you find something you love, you know where to find more. If an item doesn’t float your boat, no big loss it was only a sample anyway. It’s the best of both worlds.

US shipments only.

2. iPod Nano ($139)

To be honest I was never an Apple fan until they released the iPod Mini. Not that I had anything against the regular iPod, but the only situation I could imagine wanting all my music on the go was at the gym. Regular iPods were still too big, but the Mini changed everything. I’ve had almost every generation Mini and Nano since the original. They’ve all been good but none compare to the current Nano, which is by far the best compact MP3 player I’ve ever used. It’s small, useful and affordable. The perfect gift.

3. The 4-Hour Body, by Tim Ferriss book ($14.51)

I’ve been fortunate enough to get an early copy of Tim Ferriss’ latest masterpiece, The 4-Hour Body. His first book, The 4-Hour Work Week changed my life by helping me build a food and health writing career while simultaneously completing a PhD in neuroscience. His second book explores the art of bodyhacking. It’s both fascinating and informative. And ladies, I highly recommend getting a copy of this for your man 😉 😉

4. Fagor pressure cooker, ($69.99)

My pressure cooker was my first piece of cooking equipment that really changed what I thought possible. I never had much of an opinion about beans so always bought canned ones if I needed them. But when I discovered the huge difference in taste and texture I got from dried (especially heirloom) beans, I knew I was on to something. The only problem was that beans take forever to cook… unless you have a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker can seem intimidating at first, but it’s actually really simple and was a huge help in building my current healthstyle. This same pressure cooker was $120 last year, so this is a great deal!

5. Crock-Pot Touch Screen slow cooker, ($77.68)

I actually don’t have much experience with slow cookers, but that’s all about to change. After a lot of researching to figure out the best brand, we just settled on getting this Crock-Pot brand slow cooker. I’m really excited about the idea of throwing a meal together in the morning and having it ready when I get home from work. A perfect gift for the start of winter, and another item where the price point used to be $120.

6. Kindle e-reader, ($139)

This isn’t technically a foodie gift, but continuing education (books) is a key component in health and longevity. After getting the latest Kindle, it has been really hard for me to justify going back to reading paper books. It’s even hard to justify the iPad. The newest Kindle is beautiful, lightweight and the only device I’ve seen comprable to a paperback book. The iPad is cool for lots of reasons (Angry Birds anyone?), but it’s much heavier and more distracting if reading is truly your goal. Also, when you wear polarizing sunglasses you cannot see the iPad screen in the vertical orientation. That’s annoying because I love reading outside. And iPads start at $500.

If you want 3G (recommended), the price point is still only $189 for the Kindle. I used mine to download some sci-fi while on the beach in Hawaii. The future is now!

7. In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart, by Alice Waters cookbook ($18.48)

What I like about this cookbook is it doesn’t just teach you recipes, it teaches you to riff in the kitchen. By giving you the basic techniques to do simple things, you learn to develop that sense for what needs to be done next to make a dish great. You’ll finally be able to understand your grandmother’s recipes that call for a pinch of this and a dash of that.

8. Riedel wine glasses, ($37.45)

Fancy wine glasses used to be something you give at a wedding, but how often do those ugly crystal goblets really come out of the cupboard? All the cool kids are using Riedel glasses now, and if you’re anything like me you want to start your collection as soon as possible. This is a great starter kit for the blossoming foodie off at college. Riedel makes glasses for every grape varietal, but this set gives you glasses to cover your basic reds and whites.

9. Breville automatic tea maker, ($249.95)

One of my missions in 2010 was to cut back on caffeine, and tea was my solution. Being the foodie that I am bagged tea wasn’t an exciting enough option to get me to switch from my beloved Blue Bottle Coffee, but loose tea was really intimidating given the need to vary water temperature, steep time etc. This automatic tea maker was the answer to my problems, and I can now make any tea with just two button presses. Oh yeah, and it works with an awesome magnet system that feels like it’s right out of a sci-fi novel. Highly recommended!

10. Bradley electric smoker ($304.95)

I’ll admit, smoking isn’t the healthiest way to prepare food. But it sure is tasty! And I figure that if I’m going to be eating bacon, making it myself is certainly the way to go. I was trying to decide between recommending this and the sous vide. And though sous vide makes some of the finest food in the world, it does require a bit of expertise (and costs a lot more). This smoker on the other hand is simple and straightforward, and we haven’t messed up a single dish yet.

11. Labradoodle Toaster

The gift that keeps on giving. This puppy has sealed the deal on 2010 being the best year of my life.


(but you shouldn’t eat him)

Have you received a fantastic foodie gift? Share below!

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9 Tips To Avoid Weight Gain While Vacation Traveling

by | Oct 18, 2010
Whole Roasted Pig

Whole Roasted Pig

Vacation and travel is tricky business for someone looking to live a healthy lifestyle. While your time away is meant to be a break from your regular daily restrictions, most of us would rather not return home with extra luggage around our waists.

So how do you find the balance?

In my experience, despite eating slightly worse on vacation than I do at home, weight gain is pretty easy (even fun) to avoid. In fact, the more extended my break, the more likely I am to actually lose weight during my vacation. And it doesn’t require any sacrifices in relaxation or enjoyment.

Here are my tricks for staying thin while traveling.

9 Tips To Avoid Weight Gain While Vacation Traveling

1. Relax

You can’t expect to eat like a saint during your entire vacation, and I would argue that you shouldn’t even try to. But don’t sweat it, if you follow the rest of the advice below there should be plenty of room for fun and indulgence in your travels.

2. Eat before heading to the airport.

Airport food is horrid, and the food on flight is even worse. Even if you’re rushing around packing before your trip, budget time for a healthy meal as close to takeoff as possible. If your flight is less than 6 hours you can probably get through it without eating (or finishing) whatever the airline is serving. Also consider packing nuts or fruit in your carry on luggage for an inflight snack. But don’t forget to eat it before getting off the plane if you’re heading somewhere with agricultural restrictions.

3. Bring sturdy shoes and shorts.

When you’re active your body can be very forgiving with an occasional dessert or heavier meal. To encourage yourself to get moving on your trip, bring a pair or older running shoes. Though these will allow you to use the hotel gym if necessary, they’re even more useful for longer hikes and walks where you can explore the local scenery. Your shoes might get destroyed in the process though, so you probably don’t want to bring your newest pair.

4. Do stuff.

Chilling on the beach is awesome, but don’t spend all your time lounging around. Vacation settings tend to be filled with fun activities that can be surprisingly effective at burning calories. For instance, I wouldn’t have expected an hour on a jet ski to be particularly strenuous (and it was crazy fun), but the next day I had aches in muscles it feels like I haven’t used in years. Have some fun and earn yourself some extra calories in the evening. Hikes, sports, and even a sunset stroll is likely to be more activity than you’d be getting in front of the TV at home.

5. Take advantage of traditional, local specialties.

The big, sugary waffles and french toast can be tempting, but you can get stuff like that anywhere. Traditional foods tend to have long local histories and therefore have fewer processed ingredients than usual indulgence foods. Explore the regional culture and look for foods that emphasize fresh, local ingredients.

6. Eat small portions.

When you’re not in your hometown you’re likely to be eating every single meal in a restaurant, and restaurant portions are huge. While on vacation, get in the habit of not finishing your food. Eat half your sandwich, split entrees with your travel partner and order meals off the appetizer menu. Desserts are often less tasty than you’d expect, so limiting these to a few bites (assume you’re getting 50-100 calories per bite) can help tremendously. Trust me, you won’t go hungry.

7. Watch your drinking.

If you’re anything like me vacations mean lots of drinking, and it often starts very early in the day. Therefore to avoid overdoing it you need to monitor yourself by spacing out your drinks as much as possible and making sure you get plenty of water. Get in the habit of making every other or every third drink order a water or sparkling water with citrus. This will both slow you down and keep you hydrated, encouraging fewer hangovers and more fun all around.

8. Watch your sugar.

When ordering drinks and food on vacation, a little sugar every now and then won’t kill you—particularly if you’re very active. But if you’re having 3 or more drinks per day, margaritas, mojitos and beer are probably not the best choices. I recommend finding a drink or two that you’re happy drinking that has relatively low sugar. I’m partial to Salty Dogs (vodka and grapefruit juice with a salted rim), which have no added sugar and natural fruit juice. I also enjoy champagne, but find whatever works for you. Avoid foods with honey or sugar-based glazes (teriyaki, BBQ, honey-based salad dressings, etc.) and again, eat desserts in sample mode.

9. Aim for eating healthy-ish twice per day.

Even on vacation, you’re probably only going to face one heavy, not so healthy meal per day. The rest of the time it’s a good idea to eat as healthy as possible. Local foods can be helpful for this (e.g. the poke in Hawaii is very healthy and tasty), but even simple salads, fish tacos, fruit plates, oatmeal, etc. can be useful when you just need a few calories to get by until the next meal.

Vacations are for enjoyment, but you don’t need to gain weight in the process.

What are your tricks for eating healthy on vacation?

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