See What Happens When Two Unsuspecting Nutrition Interns Get Ambushed With a Chopped Challenge {Guest Post + a Recipe for Meatless Baked Tacos}

Every Monday, Catherine, a grad student at UNC-Chapel Hill and Stephanie, an undergrad at Boston University intern with us. Last week, we ambushed them with a Food Network style Chopped challenge. The reason: Sometimes we just like to shake things up around here!

Chopped competition via

Rather than pit one intern against the other—Stephanie is a self-proclaimed non-cook—we teamed them up with the following assignment: Make a recipe so delicious, so nutritious, and so irresistible that even a picky 14-year old (who also happens to be a vegetarian) would love it and eat it up happily. Read on for Catherine’s account of the day and the recipe she and Stephanie created for Meatless Baked Tacos.

Meatless Baked Tacos via

{Catherine’s Post} No day with The Meal Makeover Moms is the same, so when Stephanie and I walked into their test kitchen (AKA Janice’s awesome new kitchen) last week and were asked to trade our text books for a cutting board and sharp knives, we accepted our Chopped challenge graciously!  The Moms handed us four mystery ingredients and told us to “get cooking.”

Chopped challenge via

The mystery basket included meat free grounds, a Clementine, a yellow bell pepper from Janice’s CSA, and corn tortillas. Meat free grounds were new to us, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t usually care for corn tortillas, but with the pantry open to our use we began crafting a recipe that we would like … and more importantly, one that the judges—Liz, Janice, and her daughter, Leah—would like! The ingredients lent themselves to Mexican food, so off we went in search of the usual suspects: tomatoes and other veggies, spices, beans, and sour cream.


chopped competition

We chopped the veggies, sautéed them in expeller pressed canola oil, and added spices and the meat free crumbles. Then we remembered the Clementine! Deciding the citrus would balance the diced tomato and spices, we chopped it up and into the sauté pan it went …

Our mixture smelled delicious, but we still didn’t know exactly what dish we were going to prepare. Tacos? Our toughest judge has braces, so crunchy tacos shells wouldn’t win us points. A casserole? It was past 2 o’clock and we were already starving, so 40 minutes in the oven wasn’t an option. Enchiladas? I’ve never actually ordered enchiladas, much less made them. Uh oh. Clock was ticking. Ultimately we decided to stuff the mixture into the corn tortillas to resemble tacos, but packed them together in a dish like enchiladas. We sprinkled cheese over them and placed ‘em in the oven to melt the cheese.

chopped competition

 Twelve minutes later, we had a vegetarian recipe for Meatless Baked Tacos! And they were delicious. Packed with protein, fiber, and vitamins A and C, we created a dish worthy of The Meal Makeover Moms. And the best part? Our toughest critic agreed!

Chopped Challenge via

Here’s the recipe for our easy, super yummy, nutrient-packed, Meatless Monday dish that even the pickiest eater in your house will love.

Meatless Baked Tacos

Makes 8 Servings

  • 1 teaspoon expeller pressed canola oil
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • One 12-ounce package meat-free or soy crumbles
  • Eight 6-inch corn tortillas
  • One 15-ounce can fat-free refried beans
  • 1 cup shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup baby spinach, chopped, optional
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly oil or coat a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bell peppers, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper and cook until the peppers are tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the diced tomatoes and meat-free crumbles and cook, stirring frequently until heated through, about 5 minutes.

4. Arrange the tortillas in the prepared baking pan so they resemble folded taco shells. Place 2 tablespoons refried beans into  the bottom of each tortilla. Top each with a sprinkling of baby spinach, as desired. Arrange 1/3 cup of the veggie mixture into each of the tortillas. (You’ll have over 1 cup of the mixture remaining, which is perfect as a salad topper or with rice the next day!) Sprinkle shells evenly with the cheese.

5. Bake, uncovered, until the cheese melts, about 12 minutes. Serve with sour cream as desired.

Nutrition Information per Serving: 210 calories, 5g fat (2g saturated), 560mg sodium, 27g carbohydrate, 8g fiber, 16g protein, 25% vitamin A, 130% vitamin C, 30% calcium, 20% iron

Print Recipe

Enjoy ….

A Recipe for Slow Cooker Sweet & Hearty Beef Stew … Plus, Go Red Sox {October Recipe Redux Challenge}

When it comes to sports, The Meal Makeover Moms are Yin and Yang. Janice is an avid sports fan and wouldn’t miss a Red Sox or Patriot’s game for the world. Liz on the other hand is a fair-weather fan … at best! But when it comes to the World Series, we’re all in.

The Meal Makeover Moms

As the World Series begins tonight, the goal for family meals this week will be fast, easy, and comforting, which is why we were excited about this month’s Recipe Redux cooking challenge featuring slow cooker creations.

Slow cooker beef stew

Our Sweet & Hearty Beef  Stew recipe takes just five minutes to assemble, and then the slow cooker does the rest of the work for you. As Red Sox Nation cozies up to watch their team battle it out with the Cardinals, steamy bowls filled with a mix of lean stew beef, sweet carrots, and mushrooms are guaranteed to hit the spot.

Sweet and Hearty Beef Stew

Makes 6 Servings

Looking for a home-run recipe for your family? Try this slow cooker beef stew with three veggies: mushrooms, carrots, and peas. Serve over egg noodles (fun for kids), brown rice, or with a whole wheat roll and a salad.

  • 8 ounces presliced mushrooms
  • 2 pounds lean stew meat, trimmed of fat
  • One 16-ounce bag baby carrots
  • One 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed

1.  Place the mushrooms in the bottom of a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker. Top with the stew meat and carrots.  In a bowl, mix together the tomato sauce, maple syrup, and vinegar, and salt and pour evenly over the meat and vegetables. Cover and cook on low until the meat and carrots are tender, 6 to 7 hours.

2.  When done, maintain the slow cooker on low heat. In a bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water until well combined. Gently stir the cornstarch mixture and the peas into the slow cooker and cover until the liquid thickens and the peas heat through, about 5 minutes.

Nutrition Information per Serving:  350 calories, 11g fat (4g saturated), 420mg sodium, 29g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 32g protein, 220% vitamin A, 15% vitamin C, 24% iron

Beef Stew

We can’t wait to see what our fellow Reduxers cook up this month!

Family Dinner Dilemmas Solved with a Recipe for Southwest Corn, Rice & Bean Casserole

What’s your biggest family dinner dilemma? Now that the kids are back in school and families are back to their usual routines, we asked our Facebook fans to weigh in on that very question. Here are their top five answers: (1) coming up with meals to satisfy everyone in the family … especially picky eaters, (2) finding last-minute recipes that are easy to make, (3) getting organized … AKA meal planning, (4) preparing healthy meals with on-hand, pantry staples (i.e. nothing fancy) and (5) making meals that vegetarians and meat eaters both love. Phew. We’re tired just thinking about it. But to the rescue is our newest recipe for Southwest Corn, Rice & Bean Casserole. This dinner has it all!

Southwest Corn, Rice & Bean Casserole via

Our recipe comes together quickly with nutrient-rich convenience ingredients including canned beans, instant brown rice, salsa, eggs, shredded cheese, and Del Monte’s new Southwest Corn with Poblano & Red Peppers. The company recently sent us some samples (along with Del Monte’s other new seasoned veggie variety: French Style Green Beans with Roasted Garlic), and they challenged us to create a dish that families would adore using one of the new products.

ingredients for southwest casserole

 Six ingredients. Are you kidding? Talk about easy and convenient! One of the nice things about canned veggies like corn and green beans is that the vegetables are picked and packed at the peak of ripeness, so they’re nutritious … and you can eat your favorite vegetables all-year round.

Southwest Corn, Rice & Bean Casserole

Makes 4 to 6 Servings

Liz’s husband is a vegetarian who eats fish and her two boys love their beef and chicken. Liz is flexible. When she tested this dish with the family, there wasn’t a single complaint. It’s hearty and filling, and with two teen boys at the table, the casserole disappeared quickly. You could certainly add diced roasted chicken to the dish for more protein. As for the vegetables, since the seasonings are already in the can, you don’t have to bother adding your own!

  • 2 cups cooked instant or regular brown rice
  • One 15.25-ounce can Del Monte Southwest Corn with Poblano & Red Peppers, drained
  • One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup mild or medium salsa
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1½ cups reduced-fat shredded Cheddar cheese, divided

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil or coat a 9 x 9-inch baking pan or dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

2. Place the rice, corn, beans, salsa, and eggs in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add 1 cup of the cheese and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and spread evenly with a spatula, and top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

3. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the cheese melts and the casserole is bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 slice):  330 calories, 11g fat (5g saturated), 730mg sodium, 42g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 18g protein, 15% vitamin A, 10% vitamin C, 50% calcium, 10% iron

Print Recipe

Southwest Corn, Rice & Bean Casserole

Disclosure: We created this recipe for Del Monte and were compensated for the recipe and social media outreach. All opinions are solely our own. For more information on the new lineup of seasoned vegetables, visit the Del Monte website.

Salmon Recipes Kids Love Including a Fish Stick Makeover for Asian Salmon Sticks (Podcast #227)

Fish sticks are an all-time kid favorite, but many of the frozen, store-bought brands seem to have more breading than fish. To add better health to fish sticks, we make them from scratch using salmon—rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats, and our light coating is so yummy and crispy, your kids may actually think they’re eating chicken fingers! We share the recipe on this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast and also dish about another new salmon-inspired recipe for Eggy Salmon Scramble (available only on our app, Meal Makeovers). Getting more seafood into the family diet just got a whole lot easier :)

Asian Salmon Sticks

Makeovers make us happy. For this one, we switch from the usual white fish to salmon because it’s loaded with omega-3 fats, and we create a breading with egg, light soy sauce, sesame oil, ground ginger, and panko bread crumbs.

Asian Salmon Sticks

Makes 5 Servings

The American Heart Association recommends we all eat two seafood dishes each week, but getting kids to eat, let alone love seafood, can be a tall order. To make seafood more appealing to pint-size palates, we cooked up these super healthy, super delicious salmon sticks. They’re familiar enough that kids will happily take that first bite without hesitation, and the Asian seasonings compliment the flavor of the salmon.

  • 24 ounces center cut salmon fillet, skinned
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1½ cups panko bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Generously coat a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

2. Place salmon on a cutting board and slice into 3/4-inch by 4-inch strips.

3. Place flour, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl and stir to combine. In a second bowl, whisk together egg, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic powder until well combined. Place bread crumbs in a third bowl or plate.

4. To bread salmon, coat all sides with flour and shake off excess. Dip in egg mixture, then coat evenly with bread crumbs. Arrange on baking sheet, spray tops of fish with nonstick spray and bake about 7 minutes. Remove from oven, flip fish sticks, spray tops again with nonstick spray and continue to bake until coating is crispy and fish is cooked through, 5 to 8 additional minutes.

Nutrition Information per Serving (2 to 3 sticks):  340 calories, 11g fat (2g saturated, 3g omega-3), 340mg sodium, 23g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 33g protein

Print Recipe

Asian Salmon Sticks

Serve our salmon sticks with shelled edamame, rice, and your favorite Asian dipping sauce or ketchup.

Eggy Salmon Scramble

Here’s our Eggy Salmon Scramble. You’ll only find this recipe on our new app, Meal Makeovers!

A Back-to-School Lunch Box Recipe for Sweetie Pie Quesadilla and a Giveaway for the Best Lunch Box Ever (and a Dacor Distinctive Range!!) {Giveaway CLOSED}

It’s hard to believe that kids across the country are heading back to school already. While ours still have a ways to go before the school bell rings, we realize that the daily routine of stuffing backpacks and lunch boxes is now a reality for many of you. What can we say other than, “boo hoo.”

Best Lunch Box Ever

To kick off the school year on a healthy note, we’re giving away a copy of the adorable new cookbook, Best Lunch Box Ever by Katie Sullivan Morford (Chronicle Books, 2013). Katie is a dietitian, food writer, and mom of three, and she hosts the award-winning blog, Mom’s Kitchen Handbook. As part of the giveaway, Katie is also tossing in a set of colorful stacking stainless steel lunch containers from Kids Konserve (combined retail value is $47.00).

TO ENTER: Leave a comment here on our blog and tell us about your kid’s hands-down favorite, must-have lunch box favorites. Perhaps it’s a roll up or a wrap  or a special my-mom-is-the-best-mom-ever snack or dessert. We’d love to hear about it so post away!

We will enter you into the giveaway additional times if you …

Tweet about the giveaway with a link back to this post.
> Share the giveaway news with your Facebook fans and friends with a link back to the post.
> Follow us on Pinterest, Twitter (@MealMakeovrMoms), or on Facebook.

Please be sure to leave us a new comment every time you do something extra, and GOOD LUCK. The giveaway ends on August 23rd at noon, and as always we’ll use to pick our winner. Good luck!


The Best Lunch Box Ever includes recipes for mains — sandwiches, salads, pinwheels, wraps — sides, goodies, and after school eats, and it includes a bunch of super helpful tips on everything from lunch-box supplies to best ways to keep foods cool and safe. The book is filled with playful photos and whimsical packing ideas. We made a few recipes from the book including this one for Sweetie Pie Quesadilla starring shredded sweet potato.

lunch box quesadillas

Sweetie Pie Quesadilla

Makes 2 Servings

Recipe courtesy of Best Lunch Box Ever. You can change up the cheese by using low-fat Cheddar or mozzarella, and according to Katie, leftover cooked veggies like broccoli, zucchini, or bell pepeprs can be chopped up and substituted for the sweet potato.

  • 3/4 cup coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • Two 8-inch whole-wheat flour tortillas
  • 1/2 cup grated peeled raw sweet potato
  • 1/4 cup cooked black beans, drained
  • 2 tablespoons mild green taco sauce (we used salsa)
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Sprinkle half of the cheese evenly over one tortilla. Scatter the sweet potato over the cheese, followed by the beans. Spoon the taco sauce over the beans and top with the remaining cheese and the remaining tortilla.

2. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Put the quesadilla in the pan and cook until golden brown and crispy, 2 to 3 minutes. With a spatula, flip the quesadilla and cook until the second side is golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes.

3. Transfer the quesadilla to a cutting board and let cool for a few minutes.

4. Cut into quarters. Wrap or pack into two containers.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 quesadilla): 380 calories, 19g fat (8g saturated), 560mg sodium, 37g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 16g protein, 130% vitamin A, 30% calcium, 10% iron

Print Recipe

Katie is hosting this giveaway, and a lot of other food and nutrition bloggers are participating. As a thank you to everyone who enters, Katie is offering one giant grand prize: a Dacor Distinctive Gas or Electric 30″ range. Retail value: $3,199 to 3,399 (depending on gas or electric).


Because there will be one winner chosen from among multiple participating blogs, Katie has asked us to use this Rafflecopter to run the grand prize contest. You can enter via the Rafflecopter below by clicking “Enter to Win.” For additional entries, you can “Like” Dacor on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. This giveaway also ends on August 23rd, and we sure hope one of our readers wins!  PS: Katie will be on our Cooking with the Moms radio podcast on August 14th so stay tuned …

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A Summer-Inspired Recipe for Corn & Spinach Fritters

Corn is once again in season here in New England. As with most of our local produce, it’s a short season … but we’ll take it no matter what! There’s nothing better than freshly shucked corn cooked the old-fashioned way in a pot of boiling and then brushed with melted butter and a sprinkling of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Hmmmm. We’re getting hungry.

corn and spinach fritters

We can’t take all the credit for this recipe. These I-can’t-eat-just-one fritters were inspired by a recipe created by Aggie from Aggie’s Kitchen. We adapted it a bit by adding fresh corn kernels, green onions, lemon zest, and herbs.

Corn & spinach fritters

We prefer silver-dollar size fritters, but you can make them bigger (more like a pancake) if you prefer.

Corn & Spinach Fritters

Makes 6 Servings (24 fritters)

This recipe is pretty versatile. You can change up the veggies or use a variety of different herbs. We call for basil, but you could certainly mix in Asian basil, fresh thyme, or tarragon instead. Serve the fritters as a kid-friendly snack, with a salad, as a side dish … you name it. Just an FYI, if you use whole milk ricotta, each serving will have 23 grams total fat and 10 grams saturated fat.

  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
  • 1 ear cooked corn, kernels shucked (about 1/2 cup)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil or any other favorite herb
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 cups baby spinach, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1. Heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the green onions and corn kernels and cook, stirring frequently until softened and golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cool slightly.

2. Add the eggs, ricotta cheese, panko, Parmesan cheese, basil, and lemon zest and stir to combine. Stir in the sliced spinach until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (As Aggie suggests, cook up a tiny fritter, taste it, and then adjust seasoning.)

3. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Scoop a heaping tablespoon of the mixture and place in the skillet. Press down gently with the back of a spatula. Repeat until the skillet is filled (you should be able to fit 6 – 8 in the pan). Cook about 4 minutes until the bottoms are golden. Flip, flatten again with the back of a spatula, and cook another 4 minutes until golden and cooked through. Repeat with the remaining oil and ricotta mixture.

Nutrition Information per Serving (4 fritters):  320 calories, 19g fat (7g saturated), 300mg sodium, 18g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 18g protein, 20% vitamin A, 35% calcium

Print Recipe

corn & spinach fritters

Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. Bring ‘em on …

A Vegetarian Recipe for Baked Falafel Sandwiches with Yogurt-Tahini Sauce

We’ve been on a vegetarian cooking jag lately, and this recipe for homemade falafel from The Food Lover’s Healthy Habits Cookbook recently caught our eye. The book, written by the editors of Cooking Light magazine and our friend and fellow dietitian, Janet Helm from the blog, Nutrition Unplugged, is filled with tips and recipes to help readers add new mealtime habits to their lives. Flavorful Baked Falafel Sandwiches with Yogurt-Tahini Sauce comes straight from the Go Meatless One Day a Week chapter, and based on the reaction in our kitchens, it’s a recipe even meat lovers will appreciate.

Falafel sandwich from The Food Lover's Healthy Habits Cookbook

Open a can of chickpeas and you’re well on your way to a fabulous dinner. For the sauce, we used low-fat Greek yogurt versus the whole-milk yogurt called for in the recipe, and it worked just fine. We also used pita bread versus flatbreads.


We’re huge fans of the herb, cilantro. It’s definitely one of those herbs you either love or hate, but lucky for us, we’re in the “we can’t get enough of it” camp. Herbs are incredibly nutritious, so when we cook with them, we consider them a vegetable!

Falafel ingredients

Falafel Sandwiches with Yogurt-Tahini Sauce

Makes 6 Servings

You’ll find this recipe in The Food Lover’s Healthy Habits Cookbook by Cooking Light and Janet Helm, MS, RD.


  • 1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame-seed paste)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup uncooked bulgur
  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Cooking spray

Remaining ingredients:

  • 6 (2.8-ounce) Mediterranean Style white flatbreads
  • 12 (1/4-inch-thick) slices tomato
  • Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

1. To prepare sauce, combine the first 3 ingredients, stirring with a whisk until blended. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

2. To prepare falafel, bring 3/4 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan; add bulgur to pan. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 425°. Combine chickpeas and the next 9 ingredients (through garlic) in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until well blended and smooth (mixture will be wet). Spoon chickpea mixture into a large bowl; stir in bulgur.

4. Divide mixture into 12 equal portions (about 1/4 cup each); shape each portion into a 1/4-inch-thick patty. Place patties on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 425° for 10 minutes on each side or until browned. Spread about 2 1/2 tablespoons sauce onto each flatbread or pita. Top each with 2 falafel patties, 2 tomato slices, and chopped cilantro, if desired.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 stuffed flatbread):  340 calories, 8g fat (3.5g saturated), 535mg sodium, 65g carbohydrate, 15g fiber, 18g protein

Print Recipe

We hope to have Janet join us on a future Cooking with the Moms radio podcast to tell us more about the book, so stay tuned for that!

4 Tips for Adding Better Nutrition to Summer Cookouts … Plus, a Recipe for Rainbow Bean & Edamame Salad

On July 4th alone, Americans will consume a whopping 150 million hot dogs! But a new survey commissioned by Applegate shows that most consumers don’t think the dogs they buy are high quality. The good news is that not all hot dogs are created equal. Today, I joined The Morning Show at New England Cable News (NECN) to dish about better-for-you dogs and to offer tips for giving  summertime cookouts a healthy makeover. You can watch the segment by visiting the NECN website … or read on for my slimming, nutrient-boosting suggestions!

Applegate hot dogs and burgers. Organic and natural

There’s no reason to whine about wieners. The key to choosing the best brands is to look for organic and natural alternatives like Applegate. I’ve been working with them this summer to spread the news that eating hot dog and good health can go hand in hand. Their beef franks (my favorite) have just four ingredients (and yes, you can pronounce them): beef, water, sea salt, and spices. They are hormone and antibiotic free and don’t contain any fillers or nitrites.

fruit and veggie kebabs

Why stop at burgers and dogs? You can add great nutrition to any cookout by grilling up veggie or fruit kebabs. My favorite pop-on-the-grill vegetables are mushrooms, zucchini, and bell peppers. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then grill for 10 to 12 minutes. Pineapple works wonders on the grill too as do plums, peaches, and nectarines.

Cookout condiments

Ketchup, mustard, and relish may be the most popular hot dog condiments, but there are plenty of other toppers to choose from. I love to saute sliced bell peppers and onions until they are caramelized, or you can adorn your dogs with diced avocado, salsa, and cilantro for a Tex-Mex topping.

A makeover of three-bean salad

Swap out the usual sides with interesting vegetable salads. And don’t rely solely on mayonnaise for your potato and pasta salads. You can switch over to low-fat mayo or use a combo of mayo and low-fat plain Greek yogurt. The yogurt provides protein and calcium.

Rainbow Bean & Edamame Salad

Makes 5 Servings

Three bean salad was popular when I was a kid, and it’s certainly always been a nutritious side dish given all the beans! But as I often do when I have some free time on my hands, I decided to give this classic recipe an updated flavor makeover. To that end, I mixed up a new recipe using chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), edamame, raisins, carrot, bell pepper, and a bunch of interesting seasonings. Pack along for a picnic or cookout or stuff into a summer camp lunchbox for the kiddos.

  • One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup shelled, cooked edamame
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1 small carrot, finely diced about 1/3 cup
  • Half of a small red bell pepper, cut into 1/4 inch dice (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Pinch garlic powder
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper

1. Place the chickpeas, edamame, raisins, carrot, bell pepper, lemon juice, olive oil, Italian seasoning, cumin, and garlic powder in a bowl and mix until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1/2 cup): 200 calories, 6g fat (0.5g saturated), 190mg sodium, 30g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 8g protein, 40% vitamin A, 25% vitamin C

Print Recipe

Fireworks in Lexington, MA 2013

Happy July 4th everyone!

Disclosure: I created this recipe for Applegate and was compensated for the recipe and social media/TV outreach. All opinions are solely my own.

A Recipe for California Avocado Macaroni Summer Salad … Plus Other Cookout Favorites {Podcast #222} … And a Giveaway for Fresh CA Avocados {Giveaway Closed}

Summer pasta salads are often loaded with mayonnaise, adding gobs of fat but not a whole lot of nutrition. We give classic macaroni salad a makeover by swapping out the mayo for a homemade dressing made with California Avocados, low-fat Greek yogurt, fresh herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, and we feature it on this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast. Tune in for our oh-so-healthy mac salad makeover and a second summer recipe for Avocado Beef and Black Bean Burgers. Read on for the recipes and news on our latest giveaway for fresh California avocados and assorted avocado kitchen essentials.

Macaroni salad made with a dressing of California Avocados and low-fat Greek yogurt

From the July 4th holiday right through Labor Day, take advantage of gorgeous, seasonal produce from farmers’ markets or your own backyard gardens. And don’t forget about local avocados from California, they’re in season right now through September.

California Avocado Macaroni Summer Salad

Makes 8 Servings

When we think of summer holidays, classic macaroni salad comes to mind. We lighten it up with our own avocado-inspired dressing, and then we toss in diced avocado, tomato, and corn kernels. And, of course, we use whole grain pasta! The addition of the avocados adds heart-healthy monounsaturated fat as well as nearly 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

  • 3 cups dried whole wheat blend macaroni
  • 3 ripe Fresh California Avocados, halved, peeled and seeded
  • 1/2 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, packed
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, packed
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels (or frozen and thawed)
  • Basil and mint, chopped (garnish)

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions.

2. While the pasta is cooking, place an avocado half in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add the yogurt, basil, mint, olive oil, two tablespoons of the lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper and process until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

3. Drain the pasta and place in a large bowl. Cool completely. Stir the dressing into the pasta until well combined. Meanwhile, cut the remaining avocados into 3/4-inch dice. Gently stir into the pasta with the tomatoes, corn and the remaining lemon juice.

4. Season with salt and pepper to taste, garnish with additional chopped herbs, and serve.

Nutrition Information Per Serving: Calories 370; Total Fat 19 g (Sat 3 g, Trans 0 g, Poly 2 g, Mono 13 g); Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 140 mg; Potassium 670 mg; Total Carbohydrates 44 g; Dietary Fiber 10 g; Total Sugars 4 g; Protein 10 g; Vitamin A 2044 IU; Vitamin C 24 mg; Calcium 62 mg; Iron 2 mg; Vitamin D 0 IU; Folate 110 mcg; Omega 3 Fatty Acid 0.1 g

*Large avocados are recommended for this recipe. A large avocado averages about 8 ounces. If using smaller or larger size avocados adjust the quantity accordingly.

Print Recipe

Taping an avocado summer recipe segment for The Daily Buzz

We cooked up this recipe as well as our avocado beef burgers for The Daily Buzz syndicated morning show. Here’s a behind the scenes photo of The Meal Makeover Moms in action with the crew from Video Link.

CA Avocado giveaway

Giveaway News: If you love avocados as much as we do, you’ll definitely want to enter this month’s giveaway for an avocado gift basket. One lucky winner will receive six fresh California avocados, a bamboo cutting board, an avocado apron and tee shirt, a reusable shopping tote, and more. (Open to U.S. residents only.) To enter, tell us your favorite way to eat avocados? Guacamole? A sandwich topping? In an Avocado Key Lime Pie? Share away!

We will enter you into the giveaway additional times if you …

Tweet about the giveaway with a link back to this post.
> Share the giveaway news with your Facebook fans and friends with a link back to the post.
> Follow us on Pinterest.
> Follow The Meal Makeover Moms on Twitter (@MealMakeovrMoms)

Please be sure to leave us a new comment every time you do something extra, and GOOD LUCK. The giveaway ends on July 16th at noon, and as always we’ll use to pick our winner. Good luck!

Disclosure: We created this recipe for the California Avocado Commission and were compensated for the recipe and social media outreach. All opinions are solely our own. For more avocado recipes, you can visit For more July 4th avocado recipes, click here

Get Ready for July 4th Celebrations with Our California Avocado Beef and Black Bean Burgers

If you read our blog regularly or listen to our Cooking with the Moms radio podcast, you must know by now that we go gaga every time we see an avocado. And when local avocados from California become available each spring (they’re at their peak from March to September), the gaga factor goes up even higher. With July 4th just days away—can someone please explain why time always flies by so quickly—we challenged ourselves to come up with a classic beef burger with an avocado-inspired twist.

Beef burger with black beans and avocado.

A recent pilot study on 11 healthy subjects found that eating half of a fresh Hass avocado with a lean hamburger—versus eating the burger on its own—might offer protection against inflammation in blood vessels, a known risk factor for heart disease. Our better burger contains more monounsaturated fat than a typical beef burger (from the avocado), and it’s that type of fat that appears to be good for the heart.

Adding avocado, black beans, and cilantro to beef burgers amps up the flavor and good nutrition

Chopped fresh cilantro adds a gorgeous flavor to our beef burgers. If you’re not a fan of cilantro, swap it out for basil.

NECN summer entertaining

Janice stopped by New England Cable News (NECN) today to tape a live cooking segment featuring our California Avocado and Black Bean Burgers. You can watch the segment on NECN.

Avocado Black Bean Beef Burger

Quiet on the set! Our avocado black bean burger is a star :)

A bag of four CA avocados from Trader Joe’s and we’re all set for the summer cookout season.

California Avocado Beef and Black Bean Burger

Makes 8 Servings

Thanks to the addition of black beans and California Avocado, our burgers boast a boatload of added nutrients: fiber, protein, and good-for-you monounsaturated fats to name just a few. Interestingly, avocados act as a “nutrient booster” by enhancing the body’s absorption of fat soluble nutrients including beta-carotene and lutein, an antioxidant that maintains healthy eyesight as we age.

  • 1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 ripe, Fresh California Avocados, peeled, seeded *
  • 1¼ lb. lean ground beef (90% lean or higher)
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro, plus extra whole leaves for topping
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 8 thin slices reduced-fat Cheddar cheese
  • 8 whole wheat hamburger buns, lightly toasted
  • Thinly sliced tomatoes
  • Lettuce leaves

1. Preheat the outdoor grill to medium.

2. Place the beans on a cutting board and mash with the back of a fork or large spoon until smooth, but still a bit chunky. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

3. Place an avocado half on a cutting board and mash with the back of a fork. Transfer to the mixing bowl and stir together with the beans.

4. Add the beef, cilantro, bread crumbs, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper and mix until well combined. Divide the beef mixture and shape into patties, each a bit larger in diameter than the hamburger buns. Create a small dimple in the center of the burger patty by pressing down with your fingers.

5. Place the patties on the grill and cook until no longer pink inside and an instant-read thermometer registers at least 160°F, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Place cheese slices on top of patties about 2 minute before done.

6. While the burgers are cooking, slice the remaining avocado into thin slices. Place slices on a serving platter along with the tomatoes, lettuce leaves, and additional cilantro as desired.

7. When the burgers are done, serve on buns and offer toppers on the side.

* Large avocados are recommended for this recipe. A large avocado averages about 8 ounces. If using smaller or larger size avocados, adjust the quantity accordingly. Wash your avocados before cutting.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 burger): Calories 320; Total Fat 13 g (Sat 5 g, Trans 0 g, Poly 0.5 g, Mono 4 g); Cholesterol 55 mg; Sodium 544 mg; Potassium 350 mg; Total Carbohydrates 24 g; Dietary Fiber 4 g; Total Sugars 4 g; Protein 28 g; Vitamin A 679 IU; Vitamin C 6 mg; Calcium 285 mg; Iron 3 mg; Vitamin D 5 IU; Folate 19 mcg; Omega 3 Fatty Acid 0.06 g

Print Recipe

Disclosure: We created this recipe for the California Avocado Commission and were compensated for the recipe and social media outreach. All opinions are solely our own. For more avocado recipes, you can visit

My Trip to the Culinary Institute of America and a Gluten-Free Recipe for Sweet Potato & Peanut Quinoa Cakes

Last month, I spent a weekend at the gorgeous Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley, CA. My trip to the CIA was part of Plant-Powered Eating: The Role of Peanuts in Healthy Diets, a nutrition program sponsored by The Peanut Institute. We sat in on lectures exploring the benefits of adding peanuts to the diet and we cooked a variety of recipes—everything from a deep fried turkey to peanut caramel popcorn—alongside seasoned CIA chefs. My favorite recipe that day was this one for Peanut, Farro, and Mushroom Burgers with Swiss Cheese and Caramelized Onions.

peanut farro vegetarian cakes

This recipe took quite some time to assemble, and there were more than a few cooks in the kitchen preparing it. So in true Meal Makeover Mom fashion, I set out to recreate the recipe to (a) make it more streamlined, (b) use fewer ingredients, (c) keep it kid friendly, and (d) make it gluten free (something our readers love).

Gluten free quinoa cakes made with sweet potato, chopped peanuts, Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, garlic, thyme, and rosemary

I used Tim and the boys as my guinea pigs, and I’m happy to report that there were no leftovers after dinner.

Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Look at all that rosemary.

Fresh herbs including rosemary grow everywhere around the grounds of the CIA, and we used some for the recipe.

Sweet Potato & Peanut Quinoa Cakes

Makes 4 Servings

Peanuts are the most nutrient dense nut. They contain a long list of nutrients including folate, niacin, vitamin E, iron, copper, and magnesium. I love them for their versatility, and I’m especially fond of them in this recipe. The sweetness of the sweet potato is the perfect balance for the flavor of the peanuts, and the quinoa makes these pint-size patties perfect for people on gluten-free diets. To serve the patties, you can do a number of things. Consider melting a slice of cheese on top and serving on slider buns (unless you’re gluten free), or serve on top of a crisp, fresh summer salad. You decide!

  • One 8-ounce sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil or expeller pressed canola oil, divided
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Steam the sweet potato until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher until smooth. Set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms, rosemary, and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until golden, 1 to 2 more minutes. Season with kosher salt and pepper.

3. Add the mushrooms, quinoa, peanuts, and Parmesan cheese to the mashed sweet potato and stir until well combined.

4. Form the mixture into 8 patties. Heat the remaining oil in the nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Carefully arrange the patties in the skillet and cook until the bottoms are golden, about 4 minutes. Flip carefully and cook until the other sides are golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Cook in two separate batches if your skillet is not big enough to hold all 8 patties.

Nutrition Information per Serving (2 patties): 360 calories, 20g fat (4g saturated), 200mg sodium, 35g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 15g protein, 140% vitamin A, 15% vitamin C, 10% calcium, 15% iron

Print Recipe

Disclosure: I do not work for The Peanut Institute, but my travel expenses associated with the conference were paid for.  All opinions and recipe are my own. (Check out my other Napa CIA post featuring Peanut Butter Crepes with Strawberry Sauce.)

The Nutritional Benefits of Seeds … and Two Versions of a Recipe for Sunny Tuna Salad {Recipe Redux June Challenge}

Some of the tiniest foods on the planet pack the biggest nutritional punch. From beans and blueberries to teensy weensy seeds, pint-sized foods provide a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants as well as protein, fiber, and good-for-you fats. For this month’s Recipe Redux, we were given the following challenge:  No matter the season, a scattering of seeds can jazz up the flavor, texture and nutrition profile of just about any dish. Whether it’s a chilled chia seed pudding or a hearty roasted vegetable salad with a sunflower seed crunch, show us how you sow your favorite seeds in a recipe reflecting the season in your part of the globe. Well, since it’s baseball season here in Red Sox Nation, we took the time-honored sunflower seed—a favorite snack of baseball players—and added it to kid-friendly tuna salad … with a few fun twists of course.

tuna salad made with sunflower seeds, golden raisins, curry

We made a better-for-you tuna salad with a combo of low-fat mayonnaise, low-fat Greek yogurt, and sunflower seeds. From there, we created two variations. This one has chopped golden raisins and curry powder, and we suggest serving it on top of crackers or stuffed inside a pita.

tuna salad with sunflowers, tarragon, celery

For our second version, we used chopped celery, fresh tarragon, and lemon zest. Serve with crackers and carrot sticks as an afternoon snack or pack for a summer camp lunch.

Sunny Tuna Salad with Crunchy Celery

Makes 4 Servings

Sunflower seeds deliver big when it comes to nutrition. A 1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds has 190 calories and 18 grams of fat, most of which is the heart healthy poly and monounsaturated kind. They also contain nutrients like vitamin E, selenium, and manganese, important for bone and connective tissue formation. Sunflower seeds add crunch to tuna salad, but we use them in plenty of other recipes too including oatmeal cookies (gotta love the crunch), as a topper for salads, and in homemade granola.

  • Two 5-ounce cans solid white tuna in water, drained and flaked
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup finely diced celery
  • 3 tablespoons roasted, salted sunflower seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fresh tarragon (1/2 teaspoon if using dried tarragon)
  • 3 tablespoons low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat canola mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Place the tuna, celery, sunflower seeds, and tarragon  in a bowl and stir to combine. Mix in the yogurt, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and lemon zest and stir to combine. Season with the salt and pepper to taste.

2. Serve with whole grain crackers and fresh veggies, in a pita pocket, or between two slices of whole wheat bread.

Nutrition Information per Serving (2/3 cup tuna salad): 160 calories, 7g fat (1g saturated, 0.7g omega-3), 370mg sodium, 2g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 19g protein

Print Recipe

Sunny Tuna Salad with Golden Raisins

Makes 4 Servings

  • Two 5-ounce cans solid white tuna in water, drained and flaked
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 3 tablespoon sunflower seeds
  • 3 tablespoon low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoon low-fat canola mayo
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Place the tuna, raisins, and sunflower seeds in a bowl and and stir to combine. Mix in the yogurt, mayonnaise, and curry powder and stir to combine. Season with the salt and pepper to taste.

2. Serve with whole grain crackers and fresh veggies, in a pita pocket, or between two slices of whole wheat bread.

Nutrition Information per Serving (2/3 cup tuna salad): 180 calories, 8g fat (1g saturated, 0.7g omega-3), 370mg sodium, 10g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 19g protein

Print Recipe

We look forward to trying the other seed-inspired recipes from our fellow Recipe Reduxers!


A Recipe for Chicken Fingers with Honey PB Dipping Sauce … And the Story of a Hungry Llama

When you’re a busy mom, entertaining is often spelled, P-L-A-Y-D-A-T-E. We have four kids between us—Liz has two boys and Janice has two girls—and over the years, we’ve hosted our fair share of playdates. Entertaining kids can mean lunch, which is why we decided to take chicken nuggets with ketchup, a quintessential kid-combo favorite, and give it a healthy makeover. To do that, we used a bunch of wholesome ingredients: skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, wheat germ, honey, and peanut butter. Read on for the recipe and a funny story about a bag of groceries and a llama. (By posting this recipe for Chicken Fingers with Honey PB Dipping Sauce, we are entering a recipe contest sponsored by the National Honey Board, and we are eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. We received a gift card to offset the expenses of our ingredients.)

Chicken Fingers with Honey PB Sauce

We’re not wildly opposed to frozen chicken nuggets, but if we buy them, we opt for an all-natural brand with minimal ingredients. As for ketchup, our kids like it and so do we, but we’re not so crazy about the high fructose corn syrup in some popular brands. The solution: create your own chicken nuggets (or fingers in the case of our recipe) and a naturally nutritious dipping sauce using honey.

Chicken Fingers with Honey PB Sauce

We often find ourselves turning to honey for smoothies, snacks, and desserts, but it’s also ideal for main dishes like this one. We rolled each chicken strip in a mixture of honey, oil, and seasonings, coated the chicken in panko and wheat germ, and we used honey as the sweetener in our dipping sauce.

Dip away! Our sauce is made with honey, peanut butter, orange juice, lite soy sauce, ginger powder, and garlic. There’s nothing ho-hum about it.

Chicken Fingers with Honey PB Dipping Sauce

Makes 4 Servings

Honey provides a nice balance to the soy, ginger, and garlic used in the breading and dip, and it’s easy to substitute honey for other sweeteners. Here’s a good rule of thumb when using honey in baking: For each 1 cup of honey used, (1) reduce the added liquid by 1/4 cup (2) add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and (3) reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the Chicken

  • 1½ tablespoons honey
  • 1½ tablespoons expeller pressed canola oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • Two 8-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, each cut into eight 1/2-inch strips (for a total of 16 strips)
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons wheat germ

For the Dipping Sauce:

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon lite soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1/2 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil, lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray, and set aside.

2. Place the honey, canola oil, ginger, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and whisk together to combine. Microwave until the mixture is warm and softened, 12 seconds. Add the chicken and toss until each piece is well coated with the honey mixture.

3. Place the panko and wheat germ in a large shallow bowl or on a large plate and use a fork to gently mix together. Coat each chicken strip with the panko mixture and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the chicken is cooked through and the breading is golden on both sides, 12 to 15 minutes. Turn each piece halfway through cooking.

4. While the chicken is baking, prepare the dipping sauce. Place the honey and peanut butter in a bowl and warm in the microwave for 15 seconds. Stir in the soy sauce, orange juice, garlic, and ginger powder until well combined.

5. Place the dipping sauce in individual bowls and serve with the chicken fingers.

Nutrition Information per Serving (4 chicken fingers + dipping sauce):  440 calories, 16g fat (3g saturated, 0.5g omega-3), 360mg sodium, 47g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 30g protein, 10% vitamin C

Print Recipe

Now, about that llama ….

 Llama at Wilson Farm in Lexington, MA

This week, we had three awesome nutrition interns working with us; Lauren and June from Boston University and Katelyn from Syracuse University. We needed groceries for this recipe, so we paid a visit to Wilson Farm in Lexington, MA. Before we left, we took our fearless interns on a tour of the barn. That’s where we ran into Wilson’s resident llama, Belle. She’s rumored to be 100 years old … in human years, not llama years. Clearly Belle is comfy roaming around the barn, and she had no qualms about checking out our food purchases :)

From now on, we’ll be calling our intern June the Llama Whisperer! Yup, we sure know how to have fun in The Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen.

(Many thanks to the National Honey Board for hosting this recipe contest!)

‘Old’ Wedding Photos of The Meal Makeover Moms … A Recipe for Lemony Couscous with Lots of Veggies … and the Recipe Redux May Challenge (Podcast #219)

When was the last time you attended a bridal shower or baby shower? For us, it’s been a long, long time. Janice was married in 1988 and Liz tied the knot in 1992, so graduation parties are more our speed these days! But regardless of where you’re at in your life, May is notorious for all sorts of celebrations … and all those celebrations require a lot of great food.

Lemony Couscous with Lots of Veggies

For this month’s Recipe Redux, we were all challenged with a healthy dish for “shower season.” The result: A new recipe for Lemony Couscous with Lots of Veggies. This nutritious salad has bright, fresh flavors, is filled with interesting textures, and based on the trial run it received at a cookout Liz just went to, it’s a hit with people of all ages. That’s the kind of recipe we call a “keeper.”

We chat all about this gorgeous spring salad and other celebratory recipes including our Cauliflower Farro Salad on this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast, so be sure to tune in.

Janice and Don get married! Circa 1988

Janice and Don walking down the aisle, circa 1988. Oh my … that hair! Those shoulder pads!

Liz and Tim get married. Circa 1992

Now that you’ve stopped laughing, here’s Liz and Tim on their wedding day in 1992. OK. Now you can start laughing again :)

Lemony Couscous with Lots of Veggies

Lemony Couscous photo edited with Instagram.

Lemony Couscous with Lots of Veggies

Makes 16 Servings

The next time you’re invited to a bridal or baby shower or another special celebration consider our recipe.  It’s versatile, so if you prefer bell peppers to tomatoes, make the swap. Or if you love walnuts or almonds make the switch from pecans. Same goes for the feta. Tiny cubes of reduced-fat Cheddar would also be nice.

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous)
  • 8 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces, blanched for 1 to 2 minutes until crisp tender
  • One 12-ounce container multicolored gourmet tomato medley or grape tomatoes, cut into halves or quarters
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup lightly toasted pecans pieces
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the couscous and cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Stir frequently. Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil, stirring a few times. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid, transfer to a large bowl, and cool. Stir frequently to speed up cooling. (You can also place in the refrigerator until chilled.)

2. Stir in the green beans, tomatoes, feta, raisins, pecans, and basil until well combined. Stir in the remaining olive oil, the lemon zest, the lemon juice, maple syrup, salt, and pepper until well combined. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Nutrition Information per Serving (generous 1/2 cup): 230 calories, 9g fat, (2g saturated, 0.2g omega-3), 140mg sodium, 34g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 7g protein, 60% vitamin A, 80% vitamin C, 10% calcium, 10% iron

Print Recipe

Lemony Couscous with Lots of Veggies

We can’t wait to see what our fellow dietitian Reduxers have in store for us this month. Bring it on!!

A Recipe for Greek Chopped Salad, Tips for Feeding Kids from High Chair to High School … And a Giveaway of the New Book, Fearless Feeding (Podcast #218)

There is no shortage of new cookbooks on the market, but most don’t address the dos and don’ts of feeding kids a healthy diet. According to Jill Castle, mother of four and a dietitian who writes the blog Just the Right Byte, “Raising children to be healthy eaters is an 18-year process.” (We couldn’t agree more!) So together with Maryann Jacobsen—who founded another popular nutrition blog called Raise Healthy Eaters—she’s cooked up the new book, Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School. In our humble opinions, this book is the definitive guide on feeding kids. We’re thrilled because Jill joins us on this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast to share insight into mealtime challenges for moms as well as tip upon tip for success at the table. Tune in for invaluable advice and for two recipes from the book: a vegetarian-style Mexican Lasagna and Greek Chopped Salad (see below). We’re also giving away a copy of Fearless Feeding, so read on for details.

The cool thing about this chopped salad recipe is that you can tweak it to meet your family’s food preferences. Don’t like olives? Leave ‘em out or substitute with something you do like. Carrots perhaps? Also, instead of tossing, you can serve “dinner bar” style where you present each ingredient separately and then let family members build their own individual salads as they go.


Wondering why your ravenous toddler just decided to become “picky?” Fearful all those preschool birthday party cupcakes will sabotage all your good nutrition efforts? Curious how much calcium your teenage son or daughter needs? Or wondering if serving meals family style versus plating everyone’s meal will entice your kids to finally “just take a bite?” Fearless Feeding addresses those questions … and MANY more!

To bring joy back to the family dinner table, Jill and Maryann outline what they call their Fearless Feeding Strategy. That strategy goes as follows:
> Fundamental 1: WHAT to Feed Your Child
> Fundamental 2: HOW to Feed Your Child
> Fundamental 3: WHY Your Child Behaves That Way
> Putting It All Together

Who wouldn’t want that advice??!!


Setting out a family dinner bar can motivate finicky eaters to try new foods. And let’s face it: Everyone has different tastes, so by serving the components of a meal separately, everyone can create their own meals with the ingredients they like best. Jill suggests serving everything from salads like this one to tacos and Pasta Primavera as a dinner bar versus plating individual portions.

Greek Chopped Salad

Makes 8 Servings

This Fearless Feeding salad is perfect for teens. It can be served as a side dish or a stand-alone meal. Add a second can of tuna for more protein, and toss in some toasted nuts if your taste buds crave more crunch.

  • 1 head romaine lettuce, washed and chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pitted
  • One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • One 5-ounce can tuna (we used Bumblebee Omega-3 Albacore Tuna)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (from 1 to 2 lemons)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. In a large, wide, and shallow bowl, layer the lettuce, bell pepper, cucumber, olives, beans, tuna, feta, tomato, and dill.

2. In a large measuring cup or jar, combine the lemon juice, oil, garlic, oregano, and black pepper. Whisk the dressing together until it emulsifies (thickens). When you are ready to serve, toss the salad with the dressing or drizzle over individual servings at the table.

Nutrition Information per Serving:  240 calories, 16g fat (3g saturated, 0.3g omega-3), 340mg sodium, 15g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 10g protein, 150% vitamin A, 60% vitamin C, 10% calcium, 10% iron

Print Recipe

9781118308592_Castle.inddGIVEAWAY NEWS: Thanks to Jill and Maryann, one lucky winner will receive their very own copy of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.

TO ENTER: Leave a comment here or on Facebook and tell us about your best tip for getting your kids to eat a varied and nutritious diet. If you have a picky eater at home, we’re especially eager to hear your in-the-trenches advice!

We will enter you into the giveaway additional times if you …

Tweet about the giveaway with a link back to this post.
> Share the giveaway news with your Facebook fans and friends with a link back to the post.
> Follow us on Pinterest.
> Follow The Meal Makeover Moms on Twitter (@MealMakeovrMoms)

Please be sure to leave us a new comment every time you do something extra, and GOOD LUCK. The giveaway ends on May 22nd at noon, and as always we’ll use to pick our winner. Good luck!

Other nutrition bloggers who wrote about Fearless Feeding:

Mom’s Kitchen Handbook — Fearless Feeding: The Book Every Parent Needs
Tribeca Nutrition — Fearless Feeding Review and Giveaway
Elisa Zied — How to Fearlessly Feed Your Teen
Nutritioulicious — Fearless Feeding: The Definitive Guide to Feeding Children

A Cinco de Mayo Recipe for Vegetarian Mexican Lasagna … And a Sneak Peek of the New Book, Fearless Feeding

When I asked a few friends the significance of Cinco de Mayo, their universal answer was Mexico’s Independence Day, which is like our Fourth of July. Well, they were all incorrect (and I actually thought my friends were relatively smart)! Mexico’s Independence Day is celebrated on September 16th. Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French troops at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It is not a national holiday and is celebrated mostly in the state of Puebla, Mexico where it is called El Dia de la Batalla de Puebla (The Day of the Battle of Puebla). In the U.S., it has evolved into a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride, and for some, an excuse to eat chips and guacamole and drink margaritas!

Mexican Lasagna

I was flipping through a new book Liz and I received called Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School (Jossey-Bass, 2013) by dietitian colleagues, Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen, and saw a recipe for Mexican Lasagna that I thought would be perfect for Cinco de Mayo. So I invited my parents to join us for dinner and gave it a try.

CInco de Mayo

Mom and Dad were good sports and tried one of Don’s margaritas and Leah helped make the lasagna by slicing the green onions and chopping the mushrooms. Her parakeet ‘Jazzy’ kept a watchful eye! One of the tips in Fearless Feeding is to get teens into the kitchen cooking so they can learn and master some basic culinary skills … and that’s exactly what my daughter, Leah did tonight :)


I made a couple of modifications to the recipe since Leah doesn’t like corn and is currently experimenting with a vegetarian diet; I substituted sauteed mushrooms for the corn and meat-free grounds for the ground chicken.

Ingredients for Mexican Lasagna

Mexican Lasagna 

Makes 10 servings

This is the vegetarian version of Mexican Lasagna from Fearless Feeding, but you could certainly make it with ground chicken or turkey and use corn in place of or in addition to the mushrooms. I served the lasagna topped with chopped avocado that I tossed with the juice of a lime, a bit of extra virgin olive oil, and a handful of chopped cilantro. For good measure, I added a spoonful of light sour cream.

  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped fine
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • One 8-ounce package sliced mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • One 12-ounce package veggie protein crumbles
  • One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup salsa
  • Six 8-inch flour tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded reduced fat Mexican cheese
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.

2. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, cumin, and chili powder and cook, stirring frequently about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are softened, about another 5 minutes. Stir in the veggie crumbles, black beans, and salsa and heat through.

3. Coat the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch casserole pan with nonstick cooking spray. Cut the tortillas in half and layer 6 halves on the bottom of the pan, covering completely. Add half of the filling on top of the tortillas. Top with half of the shredded cheese (1 cup). Layer the remaining 6 tortilla halves. Top with the remaining filling. Cover with 1 cup shredded cheese and sprinkle the sliced green onions on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the lasagna is heated through and the cheese is melted.

Nutrition Information per Serving: 240 calories, 7g fat (3g saturated), 710mg sodium, 29g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 19g protein, 25% calcium, 15% iron

Print Recipe

Stay tuned for an interview with Jill Castle, co-author of Fearless Feeding, on this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast.

A Recipe for Barbecue Lamb Sliders with Cucumber Topping … And a Giveaway for a Breville 7-Quart Slow Cooker {GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED}

As promised, as a follow up to  my recent post about the lamb dinner I hosted in my kitchen last week, I’m sharing a recipe I created for Barbecue Lamb Sliders. I developed this family-friendly, super-easy recipe for, and I’m happy to report that my daughter, Leah, is a huge fan. The sliders were also a hit with my lamb dinner foodie friends, and it’s a recipe I know I’ll make again and again.

Barbecue Lamb Sliders via

Traditional coleslaw would be a great side dish … or you can try our Carrot Kohlrabi Slaw once kohlrabi is in season.

Barbecue Lamb Sliders with Cucumber Topping

Makes 10 Servings 

I love my slow cooker when I’m cooking for a crowd. The reason: the prep work is done ahead of time which means I can spend more time with friends. This super-simple recipe provides a great source of protein and immune-boosting vitamin A thanks to the whole grain slider buns, fresh and flavorful cucumber topping, and the lamb, of course.

  • 2¼ pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat
  • 1 medium onion, cut in 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 cup all-natural barbecue sauce
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and shredded on the large holes of a box grater (1 cup)
  • 1 cup pitted prunes
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large English cucumber (12 ounces), seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup 0%-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 20 whole wheat slider buns, lightly toasted

1. Add the lamb, onion, barbecue sauce, carrot, prunes, vinegar, and salt to a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker, and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low until the lamb is tender, 7 hours.

2. For the topping, combine the cucumber, yogurt, dill, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl, and set aside in the refrigerator.

3. When the meat is done, use two forks to pull the mixture into shredded pieces. You can do this right in the slow cooker crock. Divide the lamb evenly between the slider buns and serve with cucumber topping.

Nutrition Information per Serving (2 sliders):  490 calories, 17 g fat (5g saturated), 590mg sodium, 56g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 31g protein, 30% vitamin A, 10% vitamin C, 10% calcium, 25% iron

Print Recipe

GIVEAWAY NEWS: Thanks to my friends at the Tri-Lamb Group, we’re giving away a Breville 7-quart slow cooker with EasySear Insert ($130.00 value) to ONE lucky winner. Our winner will also receive a jar of Penzeys Lamb Seasoning and an oh-so-handy meat thermometer.


TO ENTERLeave a comment here or on Facebook and tell us about your favorite way to prepare or eat lamb. Recipes please!

We will enter you into the giveaway additional times if you …

> Tweet about the giveaway with a link back to this post.
> Share the giveaway news with your Facebook fans and friends with a link back to the post.
> Follow us on Pinterest.
> Follow The Meal Makeover Moms on Twitter (@MealMakeovrMoms)

Please be sure to leave us a new comment every time you do something extra, and GOOD LUCK. The giveaway ends on May 17th at noon, and as always we’ll use to pick our winner. Good luck!

Disclosure: Janice was compensated for recipe development and media work by the Tri-Lamb Group

Not a Baaaaaad Way to Entertain in My New Kitchen … with a Lamb Dinner for Boston Foodies

Most of us would probably entertain more often if someone else did the food shopping for us and then stopped by to prepare, serve, and clean up the mess! It takes hours to plan and implement a spectacular dinner party … hours most of us don’t have in our busy lives. As much as I love to cook and entertain, which I do fairly often, it was great to recently host a dinner party for local foodies on behalf of the Tri-Lamb Group AND have it catered by Miss Fork, a boutique catering company in Stoneham, MA.

Chef Julie at Lean on Lamb Dinner via

Chef Julie served up samples of my Barbecue Lamb Sliders which one guest declared as, “mad good.”  I’m a big fan of lamb not only because of the flavor and the fact that it’s nutrient rich, but it’s also surprisingly lean (especially the leg, loin, and rack) with an average 3-ounce serving containing only 175 calories.

Lean on Lamb Dinner via

Every item on the menu was inspiring, but the Armenian Lamb Kufta and the Mediterranean Lamb Loin Chops with Quinoa Salad were show stoppers!

Liz Enjoying her Lamb Loin Chop

Liz certainly enjoyed the Mediterranean Lamb Loin Chops with Quinoa Salad!

Boston Area Bloggers at Lean on Lamb Dinner  via

Boston-area food bloggers were invited to the dinner including Shannon from Tri to Cook, Christine from America’s Test Kitchen, Kathy from Kathy Can Cook, Pam from Cave Cibum, and Rachel from Fork it Over Boston.

Carolyn O'Neil and Allison via

Fellow RD and author Carolyn O’Neil (on the left) was in town from Atlanta to receive the Nutrition Science Media Award for 2013 from the American Society for Nutrition, so I was thrilled that she was able to join us. Here she is along with Allison Beadle from the PR firm Salt & Co.

Cookbook Author Maria Speck with Janice via

Maria Speck, author of one of my favorite cookbooks, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, took a break from writing her second book to enjoy a few nibbles and a glass of sparkling wine.

Grilled Lamb and Vegetable Kabobs

If these lamb kabobs have you yearning for more, be sure to try my Sweet & Sour Lamb Meatballs. Stay tuned for my Barbecue Lamb Slider recipe on the blog in the coming days…

Sweet & Sour Lamb Meatballs via

Disclosure: Janice was compensated for recipe development and media work by the Tri-Lamb Group

Do-It-Yourself Taco Seasoning Mix and a Recipe for Beef & Bean Taco Bundles

Whether you’re an avid do-it-yourselfer or simply looking for an easy way to clear excess packaging and yucky, fake-o ingredients from your diet, you’re going to love this homemade recipe for Do-It-Yourself Taco Seasoning Mix. Our virtual friend and fellow dietitian, Melanie Zook from Fresh Start Nutrition, created the recipe and shares it on her blog with other DIY treats and tricks … and now she’s sharing it with all of us.

Melanie will be joining us on this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast, but as a teaser, we decided to feature her taco seasoning recipe today along with a new creation from our kitchen for adorable and super kid-friendly Beef & Bean Taco Bundles.


Do-It-Yourself Taco Seasoning Mix

Makes About 7 Tablespoons

Why turn to salty packaged taco seasoning mixes (one packet can have upwards of 2,000 milligrams of sodium) when you can easily make your own taco seasoning from scratch? Everyday spices come together quickly for this naturally flavorful mixture!

  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) chili powder
  • 1½ teaspoons onion powder
  • 1½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

1.  Place the chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, salt, and pepper on a paper plate. Fold slightly and pour the spices into a small jar. Place the lid firmly on top, shake to combine, and store in your spice cabinet.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 tablespoon): 35 calories, 0g fat (0g saturated), 160mg sodium, 8g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 0g protein, 15% vitamin A

Print Recipe

Serving meals nestled inside egg roll wraps is a playful way to get kids (especially finicky ones) excited about what’s for dinner. We have two other bundle recipes in our cookbook, No Whine with Dinner: 150 Healthy, Kid-Tested Recipes from The Meal Makeover Moms, including one for Chicken Pot Pie Bundles.

Use more cilantro if you’re a big fan of this herb. We certainly are :)

Beef & Bean Taco Bundles

Makes 8 Servings

If your kids are on the young side, we suggest a portion of two bundles for dinner with a fruit and veggie on the side. For older kids (i.e. Liz’s teenage boys), three bundles is more appropriate. Gauge the exact serving size on your family’s appetite.

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (90% lean or higher)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and shredded on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup salsa (we used mild)
  • 1 tablespoon taco seasoning mix (see recipe above for Taco Seasoning Mix)
  • 1 cup reduced-fat shredded Cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend
  • 16 egg roll wraps (NOT the smaller wonton wrappers)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Place a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meat and carrot and cook, breaking up the large pieces, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain excess fat.

3. When the meat is done, add the beans, corn, cilantro, salsa, and taco seasoning mix and stir to combine. Cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Stir in the cheese until well combined but not totally melted.

4. To prepare the bundles, use a muffin pan with 12 medium-size cups (do not coat with nonstick cooking spray). Gently place 1 egg roll wrap into each cup, letting it extend over the sides.

5. Place 1/4 cup of the meat mixture into each wrap, and fold the corners up and over the top of the filling and press to seal the edges (it doesn’t have to be perfect!). Spray the tops lightly with nonstick cooking spray or brush lightly with expeller pressed canola oil (you’ll need less than a teaspoon total).

6. Bake until golden and crisp, 15 to 18 minutes. Repeat with the remaining 4 bundles. Cool slightly before eating.

Nutrition Information per Serving (2 bundles): 270 calories, 7g fat (3.5g saturated), 550mg sodium, 33g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 21g protein, 35% vitamin A, 15% calcium, 15% iron

Print Recipe

Tune into Cooking with the Moms later this week for our complete DIY coverage and a recipe from Melanie for DIY chocolate syrup.

Kitchen Makeover Update: I Host an Open House for the Contractors and Builders Who Worked on the Project

My kitchen makeover took six months to complete, but do you know how many people it took to make it happen?  The answer: A lot! It took a village to make my dream kitchen a reality … from the architect, excavators, framers, roofers, and siders to the countertop/appliance/cabinet suppliers, plumbers, electricians, tilers, painters, and general contractors. To thank everyone for their hard work and commitment, I invited them to an open house in my new kitchen last weekend.

Kitchen Makeover Workers via

A few of the key people who helped with the kitchen makeover are Randy from Sears/Kenmore, Paul from Paul John & Son Roofing, Dave the tile guy, Billy the plumber, Tom the general contractor, Alberto and Jorge from Paul’s Professional Painting, and Tom #2 (Tom’s sidekick), the guy with the colander on his head!

Party Food via

Luckily we have a 9.5-foot Silestone island that comfortably held all the food for the party. My friend Mary’s mozzarella, tomato, basil skewers and our Roasted Carrot Hummus were crowd favorites.

Tashia shredding the pork

I made two slow cookers full of our Pulled Pork Primavera Sandwiches, and they were devoured. You may recognize Tashia, one of our past Boston University interns, who came early to help me organize the pantry and then helped shred the pork.

Carole Cabinetry Designer and Owner via

Kathy and Maura from Carole Kitchen and Bath Design inspect the eco-friendly Executive Cabinetry cabinets!

Kenmore double oven demo via

Randy, the awesome Sears sales associate who helped me pick out my Kenmore appliances, was impressed with the double oven.

In addition to the builders, I invited my many neighbors who endured months of trucks on the street, our messy yard, and construction noise.  There were 52 people who showed up, and it never felt crowded in the space!

Tom Moylan and Tom Roy, builders extraordinaire!

My kitchen makeover would not have happened without these two guys: Tom Moylan and Tom Roy. They were fixtures at my house for six months. Some days I miss seeing them, but most of the time I’m glad they have moved on so I can cook and entertain in my new kitchen!

« Previous PageNext Page »