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Feeling tired? Need a jolt of energy? Instead of grabbing another cup of coffee, sipping a soft drink, or diving into a bag of candy, enjoy a healthful, homemade energy bar to nGranola baraturally refuel your get-up-and-go tank.

I have a recipe from Health magazine for Nutty Popcorn Bars that’s easy to make, has natural sweeteners, and is a protein- and fiber-rich healthy alternative to typical empty-calorie snacks like chips and candy, or even traditional granola bars. Despite their clever advertisements and food labels, many of the mass-produced granola and energy bars are loaded with sugar, salt, calories, and fat. And they don’t even fill you up.

I’m not saying this recipe is the perfect solution to a snack in a bar, but it’s certainly a more nutritious and healthier alternative to the bars available in the grocery store. Plus, you can tailor the recipe to your own individual tastes, perhaps adding dried fruit, dark chocolate, or whatever ingredient piques your taste buds.

Check them out and see if they rev up your afternoons!

Nutty Popcorn Bars

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups regular oats (such as Quaker)

1 cup salted, dry-roasted peanuts

12 cups popcorn (without salt or fat)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

5 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups raisins

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Place oats and peanuts on a baking sheet; bake for 12 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and cool oats and peanuts completely. Place popped corn in a very large heatproof bowl that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

3. In a medium saucepan, combine butter, sugar, and honey. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir with a heat-resistant spatula until the mixture comes to a boil. Then boil the mixture for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in salt and vanilla.

4. Pour hot syrup over popped corn and stir with spatula until corn is well coated. Stir in reserved oats and peanuts, plus raisins. Spread evenly into jelly roll pan or cookie sheet. Allow to cool completely, about 30 minutes.

5. Turn out the cooled mixture onto a large cutting board; cut into 24 squares. Store in an airtight container for several days.

Happy eating!

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The sweltering days of summer are here again and that means it’s time to start eWatermelon salad3njoying foods that cool us down and quench our thirst. My favorite summer food is watermelon, which conjures up plenty of fun warm-weather memories from my youth. I still enjoy a good watermelon in the summer, but now that I have a more mature palate, I like to create new and unique-tasting dishes in which watermelon’s flavor shines. My current favorite dish is a salad with watermelon, sweet onions, and feta cheese. Although it might sound oxymoronic to combine these ingredients together, the end result is simply scrumptious!

Watermelon isn’t just a fun fruit to eat; it also boasts multiple health benefits. Its Vitamin A and lycopene help reduce inflammation that contributes to such conditions as asthma, atherosclerosis, diabetes, colon cancer, and arthritis. Plus, just one cup of watermelon provides almost a quarter of the recommended daily value for Vitamin C.

So in addition to reminding you of a simpler time during summer vacations, eating watermelon pleases your senses and provides healthful nutrients for your body. Whatever the occasion — whether it’s a picnic, pool party, or any lazy summer day — this recipe from Paula Deen is a refreshing side dish perfect to help combat the heat of summer.

Watermelon Salad

Ingredients:

1 5-pound watermelon

1 Vidalia or other sweet onion

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Directions:

Cut the flesh from the watermelon and cut into bite-size pieces, removing and discarding the seeds, and set aside. Peel and slice the onion into thin rings.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, and pepper and whisk until salt is dissolved. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, a few drops at a time. Taste and adjust seasonings, as appropriate.

In a large bowl, combine the watermelon, onion and feta. Pour the dressing over the mixture and toss gently until everything is coated and evenly mixed.

Enjoy!

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Menu planning2

Ever come home from a long day of work feeling tired and hungry, scan your cookbooks for something – anything – you can serve to your family for dinner, finally settle on a recipe, only to realize that you don’t have the needed ingredients in your house? Finding yourself back at square one, you reluctantly order pizza or other fast food, sabotaging your healthy diet efforts and feeling guilty for doing so.

This was a routine scenario in my household several years ago. My stomach growled louder and louder with each turn of the cookbook page; oftentimes, I gave up on the search effort before even choosing a recipe. I was just too fatigued and hungry to muster up the energy required to eat smartly. The idea of spending time selecting a recipe, gathering the ingredients, and cooking the meal was too much for my tired and food-deprived brain to handle.

All that has changed now that I plan a week’s worth of recipes at a time and grocery shop specifically for the necessary ingredients. This technique ensures my husband and I eat a variety of healthful foods, guarantees I have all ingredients on stock, and prevents desperate, last-minute hunts for dinner. I save money and avoid wasting food by not buying unnecessary ingredients, to boot.

My menu planning routine usually begins on Sunday, when I sit down for about 10 to 15 minutes with my cookbooks and other recipes I have collected, browsing them for appealing meals. I make certain the week’s dinners provide an assortment of nutrients and a variety of foods, including brown rice, whole wheat pasta, vegetables, and protein. Then I make an accompanying grocery list and head to the grocery store for the week’s foods.

Since this process can be a bit rigid, I try to inject flexibility wherever I can. If, for example, I am busy all Sunday, I allot another time to menu plan and grocery shop. If social plans arise mid-week, I save one of my planned recipes to cook at a later time. For just this purpose, I have learned to always include at least one recipe in the weekly list that does not require fresh ingredients, and I prepare the meals that do include fresh ingredients early in the week.

Now that I menu plan on a weekly basis, I am less stressed in the evenings – not to mention less hungry and, therefore, grouchy – which allows me to enjoy a healthful meal with my husband each night.Menu planning!

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minestroneAs most of the country experiences frigid temperatures this winter, I suspect many people gravitate toward warming comfort foods like soups to take the edge off the chill in the air. But the store-bought cans of soups are loaded with sodium, often busting your recommended daily allotment of the salty seasoning in just one or two servings. That’s why I make my own soups with fresh ingredients, loads of nutrients, low sodium content, and almost no fat. One of my favorites is a chickpea and cannellini minestrone that takes about 30 minutes to prepare, but tastes like it has been cooking all day long.

 

Chickpea and Cannellini Minestrone

 

Ingredients:

Extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1 medium onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 bay leaf

1 14-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 14-oz. cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 medium carrot, chopped

2 celery ribs, chopped

1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes

8 cups vegetable broth

1 lb. kale or spinach

Salt and pepper

1 cup ditalini or tortellini pasta

Romano cheese

 

Directions:

Heat oil over medium heat and add rosemary, onion, garlic, and bay leaf over medium heat. Add beans, carrots, celery, tomatoes, broth, and kale. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Stir in raw pasta and return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and cook for 10 minutes (or until vegetables are tender and pasta is al dente). Remove soup from heat and adjust seasonings, as needed. Sprinkle servings with Romano cheese.

 

Note: This soup freezes well, so you can make it once and enjoy it for dinner several times!

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