Many of us start a new year by promising ourselves we’ll do better — save more money, perhaps, or lose those extra pounds by starting an exercise program.
During the festive holiday season, eating healthier also typically is high on the list of New Year’s resolutions.
Giving up alcohol after the excesses of December — a popular trend known as Dry or Damp January — often is a simple first step since it’s easy to find other ways to hydrate. (Really!) It’s everything else you put on the table at mealtime that can be vexing.
We all know we should eat more vegetables, for example, but it often can be difficult to work the four or five portions a day the USDA recommends for adults into a daily diet if you’re not a huge salad eater. Two to three servings of fish per week also can seem challenging if you don’t count frozen fish sticks, which when breaded and fried are high in both sodium and calories.
Occasionally, eating more plant-based protein and fewer animal products also is better for both our and our planet’s health, and after all the sweets America as a whole consumes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, goodness knows a little less sugar wouldn’t hurt.
To give you a gentle push in the right direction, we’ve assembled a few good-for-you recipes to add to your weekly rotation. All are easy and inexpensive to prepare and will appeal to kids as well as adults. They include a vegetable lasagna packed with pepper, zucchini and fresh spinach; a foolproof baked salmon burger that gets a bright and zesty punch of flavor from fresh ginger, miso and pineapple; and a crispy rice salad topped with lightly fried tofu, a versatile protein powerhouse that’s cholesterol free and rich in calcium.
And for those times when you need a sweet snack or bit of dessert to release endorphins, those chemicals that make us feel good? A low-sugar chocolate chip cookie sweetened with mashed banana should hit the spot.
This baked pasta dish is both wonderfully cheesy and extremely fresh tasting. The original recipe calls for roasting the veggies before layering them with ricotta and marinara sauce, but I hurried the process along by browning them in a pan with a little olive oil. If you’re using jarred sauce instead of homemade, make sure it’s good quality with no added sugars (I used Rao’s).
Extra-virgin olive oil, for pan
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1½ cups green or yellow zucchini squash (or mixed), cut into chunks
½ medium red onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 lasagna noodles
24-ounce jar marinara sauce
6 ounce fresh spinach leaves, washed and destemmed
15-ounce container milk ricotta cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups grated low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella cheese
½ cup grated pecorino cheese
Fresh basil leaves or chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil a 9- by- 13-inch baking dish.
In large saute pan, heat a generous tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms, red pepper, zucchini and onion to pan, season with salt and pepper and cook until tender and browned around the edges, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the package instructions, cooking until al dente. Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent sticking.
Make the ricotta filling. In a large bowl, stir together the ricotta, garlic, lemon zest, salt and several grinds of pepper.
Assemble the lasagna. Spread 1 cup of the marinara sauce at the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Top with a layer of noodles, followed by half the ricotta mixture. Spread the ricotta in an even layer, then arrange half the spinach leaves evenly on top. Top with half the vegetables and dot with 2/3 cup of the remaining marinara sauce.
Repeat with another layer of noodles, followed by the remaining ricotta, spinach, vegetables and another 2/3 cup sauce. Top with the remaining noodles.
Spread the remaining 2/3 cup marinara over the pasta, then evenly sprinkle with the mozzarella and pecorino cheeses. Bake in the 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and bubbling.
Let stand for 20 minutes before garnishing with fresh basil or parsley, slicing, and serving.
— Adapted from loveandlemons.com
Ginger Pineapple Salmon Burger
Everyone knows they should eat more fish on a weekly basis, and one of the healthiest choices is salmon. This fairly simple preparation involves turning fresh fillets into patties that work just as well on top of a salad as they do tucked into a bun or sandwich. Fresh ginger, Dijon mustard, peach jam and a splash of hot sauce add a slightly tangy-sweet flavor. I used packaged
pre-cooked brown rice to speed things along.
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup roughly chopped green onions (light and green parts)
3 garlic cloves
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons peach jam
1 teaspoon hot sauce
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon miso paste
1 pound skinless salmon fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup ground flax seeds
½ cup pineapple, diced small
½ cup cooked short-grain brown rice, cooled
Sea salt to taste
Vegetable cooking spray
2 tablespoons miso paste
Juice and zest of 1 lime
¼ cup warm water
Handful of mixed greens, for serving
6 toasted buns, for serving
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In bowl of food processor, pulse cilantro, green onions, garlic, ginger, mustard, peach jam, hot sauce, chili powder and miso paste until finely chopped and almost like a paste.
Add salmon and pulse until roughly chopped (be sure the fish isn’t too finely ground).
Transfer salmon mixture to large bowl and gently fold in flaxseed, pineapple and brown rice. Season with salt. Form into six patties, place on prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Remove the patties from fridge and spray tops with vegetable oil, Bake for 20-25 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden brown, opaque and cooked through.
Make sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the miso paste, sesame oil, lime juice and zest and warm water until smooth.
Place a salmon patty on top of each bun, drizzle with sauce and serve immediately
— Adapted from “Running on Veggies,” by Lottie Bildirici.
Crispy Rice Salad with Tofu
This protein-rich salad combines lightly fried tofu with crispy rice and fresh spinach tossed in a zesty soy sauce-based marinade. It’s both economical and incredibly tasty, and can be made on the fly.
1½ cups cooked long-grain white rice
4 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
Neutral oil, such as vegetable or grapeseed, for drizzling
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 green onions, sliced
3 tablespoons chopped peanuts
1 bunch fresh spinach, stems removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
Handful fresh cilantro, chopped
Lime wedges, for garnish
Place cooked rice in a large bowl.
Heat a large skillet (that has a lid) over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. Add the peppers and shallots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer veggies to the bowl with the rice. Stir together.
Cut block of tofu into thirds crosswise, then cut each piece crosswise again, and then into ½-inch pieces. Pat dry with paper towels.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. When oil is shimmering and easily slides across surface of pan, carefully add tofu in a single layer and cook, undisturbed, until golden brown underneath, about 4-5 minutes. Flip each piece over and continue to cook until browned on second side, another 4 minutes. Transfer tofu to a plate, leaving oil in pan.
Place the skillet back over medium-high heat. (If pan looks too dry for frying, add a little more oil.) Add half the rice mixture, pressing down firmly with a spatula, and leave to cook for 4-5 minutes, until a golden crispy crust has formed on the bottom.
Drizzle the top of the rice with a little neutral oil. Using a spatula, break rice into large pieces and flip over, cooking the other side of the rice for 3-5 minutes until crispy. When ready, remove the first batch of crispy rice from the pan and repeat with the remaining rice.
In a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil. Divide spinach among two bowls.
To serve, divide rice between bowls, toss gently and and drizzle with the soy sauce mixture. Top with fried tofu, green onions, peanuts and cilantro. Squeeze a little lime juice on top and serve.
— Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette
Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies
Don’t know what to do with those overripe bananas? These guilt-free,
low-sugar treats are a cookie version of banana bread.
1 cup white whole wheat flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ tablespoons coconut oil or butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup mashed ripe banana (about 1/2 small)
1 tablespoon milk
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips, chopped
In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In separate bowl, stir together coconut oil or butter, vanilla, banana and milk. Stir in milk and chocolate chip bits.
Add flour mixture, stirring just until incorporated. (It will be sticky.) Chill dough for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Drop cookie dough by the teaspoons onto the prepared sheet, and flatten with your fingers or a spatula. (The batter will not melt.)
Bake in hot oven for 10-12 minutes. (The centers should still feel a little soft and underdone.) Let rest on cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about 15 cookies.
— Adapted from amyshealthybaking.com
Gretchen McKay writes for the Pittsburg Post Gazette.