Staff Picks from the March/April Issue of EatingWell

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By Wendy Ruopp, March 5, 2014 – 12:00pm


Staff Picks from the March/April Issue of EatingWell

We’ve put together another delicious issue of EatingWell magazine—our March/April 2014 issue is packed with 46 new recipes that use the best ingredients of early spring. Take, for example, our cover models: colorful radishes. Who knew radishes could be so versatile? You can roast them, slice them thin for gorgeous tea sandwiches (pictured) and blend them into a creamy soup. There’s a feature story on grass-fed beef that includes recipes by meat master Bruce Aidells that you won’t want to miss: Rib-Eye Steaks with Piquillo Pepper Sauce! Flat-Iron Steak Salad with Mustard-Anchovy Dressing! The office smelled amazing when the Test Kitchen was cooking these beef recipes. Here are a few more staff favorites:

Tofu Stroganoff
Tofu Stroganoff: A Vegetarian Delight
Tofu Stroganoff rocked my world. It reminded me of the beef stroganoff that my mom used to make and as a vegetarian I haven’t enjoyed those flavors for years. It’s such a whole new way to make tofu that I’ll be definitely be using again—and again. —Lisa D’Agrosa, Associate Nutrition Editor

Honey-Mustard Tofu Tenders
Honey-Mustard Tofu Tenders: Quick Family-Friendly
I loved the Honey-Mustard Tofu Tenders, especially the dipping sauce. They were quick and easy and a big hit with everyone in my family (including a very picky 3-year old!). —Sarah Hoff, Web Producer Digital Marketing

Red Cabbage Salad with Blue Cheese  Maple-Glazed Walnuts
Red Cabbage Salad with Blue Cheese Maple-Glazed Walnuts:
A Fresh Take on Slaw

I loved the diversity of all the cabbage recipes. People sometimes think of cabbage as frumpy, but these dishes really highlighted how elegant cabbage can be. The hearty red cabbage salad was my favorite. A bit of blue cheese in both the dressing and the salad really puts it over the top and goes so well with the sweet walnuts. —Gretel H. Schueller, News Editor /

Homemade Yogurt
Homemade Yogurt: Healthier Customizable
I am a huge fan of the homemade yogurt recipe and will be adding it to my weekly cooking list. It’s great to know that you can easily make your own yogurt and be confident in knowing exactly what goes into it, to help control added sugars. —Jennifer Brown, Manager of Production Custom Publishing

Raspberry Overnight Muesli
Raspberry Overnight Muesli: An Easy Protein-Packed Breakfast
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day—even though I usually (OK, always) eat the same thing: whole-grain cereal with milk. But I loved the Raspberry Overnight Muesli—it’s just as quick as pouring milk over cereal but keeps me going a lot longer. It’s also travel-friendly, which makes it perfect for rushed mornings. The raspberries were an added bonus! —Lindsay Westley, Content Producer

Southwest Quinoa Cakes
Muffin-Tin Magic: Southwest Quinoa Cakes
These little protein-packed pucks are every busy mother’s dream—I’ve made them twice in two weeks. They require extremely little chopping (a few scallions), just measuring and mixing together a few no-prep ingredients with easily prepared quinoa and voilà! A cute, perfectly portioned dinner that’s delish with avocado, the super-fast salsa in the recipe or store-bought salsa and a side of veggies. Both my kids gobbled them up. And if you are fortunate enough to have leftovers, freeze them for another meal. —Michelle Edelbaum, Digital Director

Mini Rum-Raisin Bread Puddings
Mini Rum-Raisin Bread Puddings: More Muffin-Tin Versatility
Imagine breakfast, dinner and dessert recipes all made in a muffin tin. Bread pudding is such a favorite of mine that sometimes I have a little trouble with portion control. The Mini Rum-Raisin Bread Puddings are just the ticket: scrumptious and just the right size! —Anne Treadwell, Research Editor

What recipes in the March/April issue are you looking forward to trying? Tell us what you think below.

Wendy Ruopp, Food Blog, Budget meals, Dessert, Dinner, Family meals, Quick meals, Vegetarian, What’s in season

Wendy Ruopp

How to Make Your Own Homemade Yogurt

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By Breana Lai, March 2, 2014 – 10:36pm


How to Make Your Own Homemade Yogurt

See how to make healthy frozen yogurt

There are plenty of good reasons why yogurt sales have increased by 40 percent over the past five years. High in protein and calcium, and a probiotic powerhouse (if it’s got the live and active cultures label), yogurt is a magnificent food. Not only is yogurt simply delicious alone as a healthy snack or breakfast, it’s also an extremely versatile cooking ingredient. It works as a lower-calorie and lower-saturated-fat replacement for cream, mayo, oil and sour cream in many recipes.

Related: Easy Recipes with Yogurt

With so many varieties available in the store, I never thought I would make yogurt at home. But after trying it out it in the Test Kitchen, I’m a homemade-yogurt convert! Making yogurt at home is actually really easy. The best part: you save money and you can control the flavor, thickness and quality. Plus, if you want, you can strain it to make Greek-style yogurt. Now that’s personalized yogurt!

Recipe to Try: Homemade Plain Greek Yogurt

To make your own yogurt, you’ll need 4 cups of milk and 1/4 cup of plain, unsweetened yogurt with live and active cultures. Because you need a little bit of yogurt to make your own yogurt, pick a plain yogurt you like the taste of. My favorite yogurt to use as a starter is Noosa, an Australian-style yogurt from Colorado, because the flavor is tangy. I prefer to use reduced-fat, 2% milk because it creates creamier yogurt than skim milk and without as much saturated fat or as many calories as whole milk, but you can use any milk you have on hand. (I also pick organic milk from a local dairy.) You’ll heat the milk to 180°F and then cool it to 110°F, stir in the yogurt and transfer it to two mason jars or a heatproof bowl and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. For the milk to transform into yogurt, it needs to incubate in a warm environment. Because I don’t have a yogurt maker at home—and because I live in chilly Vermont—my oven serves as a warm spot: I just turn it to 200°F for 5 minutes and then switch it off. Then I place the loosely covered mason jars or bowl in the oven for 8 hours.

Recipe to Try: Homemade Plain Yogurt

After the milk has been magically transformed to yogurt after 8 hours, place the jars in the refrigerator until cold. If you prefer Greek yogurt, strain the yogurt through cheesecloth or in a Greek yogurt maker. The strained whey, the liquid left over from Greek yogurt, can be used like buttermilk.

Don’t Miss: Healthy Buttermilk Recipes

To make more yogurt, don’t forget to save at least 1/4 cup of the yogurt from your last batch. And trust me, you’ll definitely want to!

Related: What Is the Healthiest Yogurt?

What are your favorite ways to use yogurt? Tell us what you think below.

Breana Lai, Healthy Cooking Blog, Cooking tips

Breana Lai

Day 6: Cut Back on Sugar

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By Lisa D’Agrosa, January 22, 2014 – 11:59am


Day 6: Cut Back on Sugar

How to cut back on added sugar

Most people eat far too many added sugars. The easiest way to clean up the sugars in your diet is to limit obvious sources of sugar like soda, candy and baked goods. But don’t stop there—healthy foods like yogurt, tomato sauce and cereal can be “sneaky” sources of added sugars. Spend some time today reading labels. Choose plain or no-sugar-added varieties of your favorite foods, and check the ingredients to make sure sugar either isn’t listed at all, or is listed toward the bottom of the ingredient list.

Recipe to Try: Quinoa Pilaf with Seared Scallops

Lisa D’Agrosa, Health Blog, Clean-Eating Challenge, Good choices, Health, Nutrition, Wellness

Lisa D'Agrosa

Day 7: Cut Down on Alcohol

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By Lisa D’Agrosa, January 22, 2014 – 12:05pm


Day 7: Cut Down on Alcohol

How to make a low-calorie dinner

Eating clean also means drinking clean. You can still have some alcohol if you want—but stay within the recommended daily limit of one drink for women and two for men. One drink equals 5 ounces of wine, 1½ ounces of liquor or 12 ounces of beer.

Recipe to Try: Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs

Lisa D’Agrosa, Health Blog, Clean-Eating Challenge, Good choices, Health, Nutrition, Wellness

Lisa D'Agrosa

Best & worst energy drinks

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By Brierley Wright, January 22, 2014 – 12:22pm


Best  worst energy drinks

Limit these foods for a clean diet

Energy drink sales are skyrocketing: from 2011 to 2012 they grew by 14 percent, a bigger jump than any other beverage category! That’s not too surprising—who doesn’t want to catch a second (or third) wind?

Don’t Miss: The EatingWell Energy Drink

But are some drinks better than others? Here we take a look at the calories, sugar and caffeine in some of the most popular energy drinks on the market.

Don’t Miss: Are Energy Drinks Bad for You? Learn About the Health Side Effects of Energy Drinks Here

The Best: McDonald’s Coffee
(large, 16 oz., black): 0 calories, 0 g carbohydrate, 0 g sugar, 133 mg caffeine
In general, straight-up black coffee is going to be a top choice for energy. Black tea is a close second, though it delivers less caffeine per fluid ounce. Research shows that, in small quantities, caffeine may boost energy, alertness and athletic performance. But it’s recommended that you limit your caffeine to 200 milligrams at a time, no more than twice a day—which is why the McDonald’s black coffee at 130 mg per 16 ounces beat out the Starbucks with 330 mg for 16 ounces.

There are other perks to choosing coffee, too: moderate coffee drinking may help reduce risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. You can read more about the health benefits—and cons—of coffee here.

Related: 7 Coffee-Brewing Mistakes
To Freeze Coffee or Not? And More Myths About Making Coffee Answered

Other top choices:
• Starbucks Coffee, Pike Place Roast
(grande, 16 oz., black): 5 calories, 0 g carbohydrate, 0 g sugar, 330 mg caffeine
• Celestial Seasonings Morning Thunder Black Tea
(1 bag): 0 calories, 0 g carbohydrate, 0 g sugar, 40 mg caffeine
• Crystal Light Energy
(1 serving; all flavors): 5 calories, 0 g carbohydrate, 0 g sugar, 60 mg caffeine
• 5-Hour Energy (1.93 oz.): 4 calories, 0 carbohydrate, 0 g sugar, 215 mg caffeine

Worst: Rip It Power
(16 oz.): 260 calories, 66 g carbohydrate, 66 g sugar, 200 mg caffeine
Of the energy drinks we looked at, Rip It Power delivered the most calories and sugar—though its caffeine content is spot on, based on the recommendation to limit it to 200 milligrams at a time.

Here’s how other popular energy drinks stack up:
• Advocare Spark
(1 packet): 45 calories, 11 g carbohydrate, 0 g sugar, 120 mg caffeine
• AMP Energy Original
(16 oz.): 220 calories, 58 g carbohydrate, 58 g sugar, 142 mg caffeine
• AMP Energy Original, Sugar Free
(16 oz.): 10 calories, 0 g carbohydrate, 0 g sugar, 142 mg caffeine
• Coca-Cola
(12-oz. can): 140 calories, 39 g carbohydrate, 39 g sugar, 35 mg caffeine
• Glaceau Vitamin Water Energy
(20-oz. bottle): 120 calories, 33 g carbohydrate, 32 g sugar, 50 mg caffeine
• Monster Energy
(16 oz.): 200 calories, 54 g carbohydrate, 54 g sugar, 160 mg caffeine
• Monster Energy, Lo-Carb
(16 oz.): 20 calories, 6 g carbohydrate, 6 g sugar, 160 mg caffeine
• Red Bull
(8.4 oz.): 110 calories, 28 g carbohydrate, 27 g sugar, 80 mg caffeine
• Rockstar, Sugar Free
(16-oz. can): 20 calories, 4 g carbohydrate, 0 g sugar, 160 mg caffeine
• Sambazon Organic Amazon Energy
(12 oz.): 135 calories, 35 g carbohydrate, 30 g sugar, 80 mg caffeine
• Starbucks Doubleshot Energy Mocha Drink
(15-oz. can): 200 calories, 33 g carbohydrate, 26 g sugar, 145 mg caffeine
• V8 V-Fusion + Energy Orange Pineapple
(8-oz. can): 50 calories, 13 g carbohydrate, 10 g sugar, 80 mg caffeine

Which energy drink is your go-to? Tell us what you think below.

Brierley Wright, Health Blog, Good choices, Health, Product reviews

Brierley Wright

The Perfect Sandwich for a Super Bowl Party: Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

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By Wendy Ruopp, January 24, 2014 – 9:14am


The Perfect Sandwich for a Super Bowl Party: Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

See how to make Buffalo wings healthy

OK, I admit, football makes no sense to me. Yet that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the whole Super Bowl extravaganza. No matter who’s playing, I’ll be watching. And eating. That’s half the fun, right?

Don’t Miss: What Is the Healthiest Super Bowl Food?

Of course, I have no desire to end up as big as those guys on the field. To not go overboard with extreme snacking, I’m going to make this healthy Buffalo Chicken Sandwich recipe. The chicken is crispy, tender and loaded with flavor; the secret is boneless, skinless chicken thighs that are coated in whole-wheat breadcrumbs and sautéed until golden in just a touch of oil. The sandwich then gets topped with the iconic fixings for Buffalo wings—carrots, celery, blue cheese, hot sauce—blended into a crunchy, zingy slaw. This is a sandwich that satisfies—well beyond the final touchdown.

Don’t Miss: Healthier Chip Dip Recipes for Game Day
Download a FREE Game Day Snacks Recipe Cookbook!

Buffalo Chicken Sandwich
Pin It! Print It! Save It! Eat It! Mmmm…
High Fiber
Makes: 4 servings, 1 sandwich each
Active time: 35 minutes Total: 35 minutes

This healthy Buffalo chicken sandwich recipe takes the traditional accompaniments to Buffalo chicken wings—carrots, celery and blue cheese dip—and turns them into a crunchy slaw to top the sandwich.

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 large egg, lightly beaten

3/4 cup coarse dry breadcrumbs (panko), preferably whole-wheat

4 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 1/4 pounds), trimmed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper plus 1/8 teaspoon, divided

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons hot sauce, such as Frank’s RedHot

3/4 cup thinly sliced celery

3/4 cup thinly sliced carrot

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream

4 small whole-wheat hamburger buns, toasted

1. Place flour, egg and breadcrumbs in three separate dishes. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Coat both sides of the chicken with flour, shaking off any excess, then dip in egg. Finally, coat both sides with the breadcrumbs, pressing to help the crumbs stick.

2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning once, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove from heat, cover and let stand until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F, 2 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a clean bowl and toss with hot sauce.

3. Combine celery, carrot, blue cheese, sour cream and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Top each bun with chicken and 1/3 cup of the slaw.

Per serving: 468 calories; 22 g fat (6 g sat, 10 g mono); 131 mg cholesterol; 37 g carbohydrate; 4 g added sugars; 31 g protein; 6 g fiber; 700 mg sodium; 467 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (87% daily value), Zinc (24% dv), Iron (19% dv), Vitamin C (17% dv), Magnesium (16% dv).

What’s your game-day party pleaser? Tell us what you think below.

Wendy Ruopp, Food Blog, Budget meals, Dinner, Entertaining, Family meals, Recipe Makeover

Wendy Ruopp

What You Need to Know About Caramel Color

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By Lisa D’Agrosa, January 27, 2014 – 10:12am


What You Need to Know About Caramel Color

See which foods to limit for a clean diet

A new study by Consumer Reports may make you think twice before reaching for a soda (and it’s not about sugar or artificial sweeteners). Some types of caramel color, an additive found in many colas, contain a compound (4-MEI) that may cause cancer, according to some animal studies. Recently, California’s Environmental Protection Agency began requiring a cancer warning for products with 4-MEI that exceeded the state’s recommended limit. As a result, Coca-Cola reformulated their colas sold in the U.S. to use a 4-MEI-free caramel color, and PepsiCo pledged to do the same by February 2014. Yet, when Consumer Reports tested various colas purchased last year, they found some that far exceeded the recommended 4-MEI limit set by California. Of the reformulated sodas they tested, some had low levels but others were higher than expected. The FDA maintains its position that there is no danger from caramel color but, possibly prompted by this report, is continuing to investigate the additive’s safety.

In addition to colas, caramel color is typically found in soy sauce, dark breads, baked goods and beer. There’s no way to know which type of caramel color might be in your food (and it can also be listed just as “artificial color” on the label), but most foods contain such small quantities it shouldn’t be a health concern. If you’re worried, look for products free of caramel color and artificial colors in general.

Lisa D’Agrosa, Health Blog, Food News Blog, Food health news, Health, Nutrition

Lisa D'Agrosa

A Week of Clean-Eating Dinners and Sides

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By Breana Lai, January 28, 2014 – 9:06am

A Week of Clean-Eating Dinners and Sides

Eating clean may seem like a trendy idea, but in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, it’s what we always think about when we develop recipes—and how we like to cook at home. It’s simply a healthy—and sustainable—way to approach all your meals. “Clean eating means filling your plate with real, whole foods, eating a variety of fruits and whole grains, moderate amounts of lean meats and sustainable seafood, dairy, nuts and seeds and healthy oils,” says Michelle Dudash, registered dietitian and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. And, she adds, “Notice how you don’t eliminate food groups?” Now that’s good news!

Don’t Miss: See How to Eat Clean

To help jump-start your clean-eating efforts, I’ve put together a 7-day clean-eating dinner menu. All the planning has been done for you! I focused on delicious recipes that embody clean-eating principles, so you’ll be limiting processed food, slashing sodium, eating less meat, loading up on vegetables and choosing more whole grains.

The recipes in this week’s plan start with an Asian-inspired orange chicken and include omega-3-rich salmon, a protein-packed quinoa veggie burger, pizza with a salad on top (we like to call them pizz’alads) and healthy pasta with pesto and vegetables. Fast and healthy side dish suggestions round out each meal.

Download a mini cookbook with all the recipes for this week of meals plus a printable shopping list!

Here’s this week’s menu:

Clementine  Five-Spice ChickenMonday: Clementine Five-Spice Chicken
Clean-Eating Theme: Eat Less Processed Food

Ditch the Chinese takeout and make this gorgeous homemade chicken recipe. Vitamin C-rich citrus, fragrant Asian five-spice powder and spicy Sichuan peppercorns blend together to create a sweet, yet tangy flavor. You’ll be amazed at how flavorful this dish is, using just a handful of basic ingredients.

Serving Idea: Pair with couscous and a mixed green salad with Carrot-Ginger Vinaigrette.

Salmon with Toasted Israeli CouscousTuesday: Salmon with Toasted Israeli Couscous
Clean-Eating Theme: Slash the Sodium

This simple one-skillet salmon dish with toasted Israeli couscous has only 368 mg of sodium per serving. (Compare that to Chili’s “Lighter Choice Grilled Salmon” served with rice and steamed broccoli, which has a whopping 1,920 mg of sodium!) In addition to being healthier, our EatingWell version is ready in just 30 minutes. Look for whole-wheat Israeli couscous for added fiber.

Serving Idea: Try roasted carrots with cumin or Basic Sautéed Kale for a vegetable side.

Quinoa Veggie BurgerWednesday: Quinoa Veggie Burger
Clean-Eating Theme: Eat Less Meat

This veggie burger is perfect because it has 11 grams of protein from the quinoa. This meatless burger is also especially delicious because it’s packed with toasted pecans, mushrooms, cheese and herbs. YUM!

Serving Idea: Mixed Green Salad with Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette

Margherita Pizz'alad Thursday: Margherita Pizz’alad
Clean-Eating Theme: Eat More Vegetables

I picked one of my favorite foods and added a veggie twist: pizza with a salad on top. This healthier update to the classic Margherita pizza is topped with juicy tomatoes, slices of fresh mozzarella and a generous portion of tangy green salad, but feel free to use your favorite veggies. And with a pizza this loaded with good stuff, you don’t need a side!

Spaghetti GenoveseFriday: Spaghetti Genovese
Clean-Eating Theme: Choose Whole Grains

In this recipe, we combine green beans, potatoes and pesto with whole-wheat pasta for a satisfying, yet fiber-rich meal. If you are eating gluten-free, swap the pasta for enriched gluten-free pasta, quinoa or brown rice.

Serving Idea: Arugula Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Quinoa Pilaf with Seared ScallopsSaturday: Quinoa Pilaf with Seared Scallops
Clean-Eating Theme: Cut the Sugar

Most people eat far too many added sugars. The easiest way to clean up the sugars in your diet is to limit obvious sources of sugar like soda, candy and baked goods. But don’t stop there. Healthy foods like yogurt, tomato sauce and cereal can be “sneaky” sources of added sugars, so check the labels. In this recipe, we use whole-grain quinoa and get natural sweetness from citrus and scallops.

Serving Idea: Basic Sautéed Kale

Spaghetti Squash  MeatballsSunday: Spaghetti Squash Meatballs
Clean-Eating Theme: Curb the Alcohol

For Sunday we’re serving up some cozy comfort food: spaghetti and meatballs with a healthy swap: spaghetti squash instead of noodles for an extra-tasty dose of vegetables. And because eating clean also means drinking clean—even on the weekend, folks!—stick to the recommended alcohol consumption of one drink for women and two for men. One drink equals 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of liquor or 12 ounces of beer.

Serving Idea: Garlicky Green Beans

Download a mini cookbook with all the recipes for this week of meals plus a printable shopping list!

What does clean eating mean to you? Tell us what you think below.

Breana Lai, Food Blog, Clean-Eating Challenge, Dinner, Family meals, Health

Breana Lai

How I Lost 20 Pounds: Meet Nancy Roscigno

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By Breana Lai, January 28, 2014 – 10:49am

How I Lost 20 Pounds: Meet Nancy Roscigno

Nancy Roscigno, a 47-year-old interior designer from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, lost over 20 pounds with her girlfriends. Here’s how she did it— and how you can too.

What was your biggest challenge for losing weight?

I had a very hard time making the right food choices. I grew up in a large Italian-American family and though I’ve been cooking since I was a kid, the food—and the portions—weren’t always healthy.

What was the key moment you decided you wanted to lose weight?

I wasn’t happy with the number I saw on the scale, and I felt a huge responsibility to provide good choices and be the healthy role model that I wanted to be for my kids (now aged 21 and 19). When I ate better, my family ate better.

My girlfriends and I had been walking together in the neighborhood almost daily and we decided we should add a meal component to this plan. We knew eating healthy was just as important as exercising.

How did you you lose weight?

One of my walking partners, Julie, had been researching meal-delivery programs, but the cost and the potential that delivery dinners could be loaded with processed ingredients or not very tasty was a concern. And then—lightbulb moment—we had an idea: what if, instead of paying for ready-made food from a company, we prepared healthy dinners for each other?

For the next 10 months, we planned and cooked low-cal dinners for each other. Each weeknight one person would cook and deliver the meal to the other two neighbors. I followed a strict 1,200-calorie daily diet—300 calories at breakfast and lunch, two 100-calorie snacks (one morning, one afternoon) and a 400-calorie dinner—and exercised five days a week, usually walking in the morning and again after dinner. After 6 months, we had all met our goals of losing 20 pounds.

Read the full story: Girlfriends’ Diet Club: The Weight-Loss Program That Helped 3 Women Lose 60 Pounds

How did your girlfriends help you slim down?

The real difference for me, compared to other weight-loss programs I’ve tried, was the direct accountability that we felt toward each other. It isn’t easy to lose weight, but having friends who listen—and keep you accountable—made it easier.

Early one Sunday morning when Julie was away on vacation, she called me at what would have been our usual post-exercise time and asked how my workout went. I was so busted. I had to admit to her that when my alarm went off, I smiled at the thought that she was away, hit snooze and rolled over and went back to sleep. You’d better believe I stayed on track during the rest of her trip.

Exercising together also helped me work through other dieting challenges. For example, if I had an upcoming event like a cocktail party, our walk would become a strategy session. We’d discuss what food was likely to be served, how I’d stay on track without calling attention to myself as the “dieter,” whether it was better to eat beforehand, what would be hard to resist. By the time the walk was over, I’d have a plan because my girlfriends had talked me through it.

What was one of your challenges—and how did you overcome it?

When I went back to school to get my interior design degree, I often got hungry when I was studying late at night. Instead of rummaging around in the pantry, I planned ahead for a 15-minute break that included a healthy snack.

Related: 100-Calorie Snacks to Pack

What have you learned from your diet club?

It’s taught me that you can diet and eat healthy, yet still enjoy cooking and really look forward to your meals. It certainly didn’t feel like a diet; it felt like a supportive supper club.

How have you kept the weight off?

When I looked in my closet and realized that everything in it fit, I was motivated to keep up with my new good habits. I also have been able to maintain my weight loss because I now know what a 400-calorie dinner looks like. When one of us makes a large batch of food, like soups and casseroles, we often share with each other. It’s fun to keep cooking for people who love food as much as you do. I also still exercise at least 5 days a week for 30 to 60 minutes. My favorite activities include pilates, weight training and walking.

What advice can you offer to other people who would like to lose weight based on your plan?

Anyone can make this work. Find friends—you only need one or two—and create a plan.

We chose which nights we would cook based on our family activities and what made sense for us. But if weeknights are too much for you, try cooking on the weekend, freezing meals or relying on your crock pot. As long as you have a plan, and have friends to make sure you follow it, this can work for you.

What are some of your favorite EatingWell recipes?

I love the Chorizo-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin and Five-Spice Turkey Lettuce Wraps!

Share Your Weight-Loss Success!
Have you lost weight and kept it off? Send your story to and you could be featured in our next video. Looking for inspiration? Watch how Mark lost more than 100 pounds.

What are your weight-loss tips? Tell us what you think below.

Breana Lai, Diet Blog, Healthy Cooking Blog, Diet, Dinner

Breana Lai

Essential Staples for Quick & Easy Chinese Meals

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By Breana Lai, January 29, 2014 – 12:54am

Essential Staples for Quick  Easy Chinese Meals

My first cooking class was with my mom at Lan’s Chinese Cooking School in Durham, North Carolina, when I was 8 years old. My mom and I were excited to learn how to make authentic Chinese food because my Hong Kong-born dad and I preferred it to all other foods. I was the youngest student to ever enroll and I had to stand on a stepstool to be tall enough to mix the ingredients in the wok. It was here I first kindled my passion for cooking. I also learned that Chinese cooking isn’t difficult as long as you have the right ingredients.

Even though I am now a professionally trained cook, to this day my friends and family request I make the Chinese food I learned to make as a kid. With just a few basic pantry staples, you too can make Chinese dishes that are quick, healthy and crowd-pleasing.

Don’t Miss: Download a Free Healthy Chinese Recipe Cookbook

10 Chinese Pantry Staples:

Most of these items can be found in the international or Asian section of your grocery store. While this may seem like a lot of ingredients, all are either pantry-stable or will last in the refrigerator for months to years. None of the ingredients are very expensive and their uses are broad. From stir-fries to salad dressings to marinades, I’m always finding new ways to use these ingredients. Often, I even use them in place of common American ingredients, such as rice vinegar for white-wine vinegar.

1) Soy Sauce: There are actually two different types of soy sauce, light and dark, and both are essential. Light soy sauce is what is meant when a recipe calls for soy sauce—not to be confused with “lite,” which is low-sodium. Dark soy sauce is aged longer and is typically mixed with molasses or caramel and cornstarch; it’s thicker, sweeter and less salty than light soy sauce. For most recipes, use light soy sauce; however, for a deep-dark color and slightly sweeter flavor, try dark soy sauce.

2) Oyster Sauce: Oyster sauce is made from oyster extract, soy sauce and seasonings. It is a thick, rich and salty sauce—especially delicious with Chinese vegetables, such as bok choy, choy sum or kai-lan (also known as Chinese broccoli). For a super-easy and traditional vegetable side, stir-fry a mix of Chinese vegetables and top with oyster sauce.

3) Rice Wine: There are many types of Chinese rice wine, but the best for cooking is the nutty Shao Hsing (or Shaoxing) because it is a higher-quality rice wine. Shao Hsing should be of good enough quality for you to drink. Rice wine adds acidity and flavor to marinades and sauces just as red wine adds a specific flavor to Italian cooking. If you don’t have access to Shao Hsing, dry sherry is a good substitute.

4) Rice Vinegar: There are three different types of Chinese rice vinegar: white, black and red, depending on the type of rice used to make it. I keep both white and black on hand, but if a recipe calls for rice vinegar, it means white rice vinegar. Look for unseasoned (if the bottle doesn’t say seasoned, it’s unseasoned) rice vinegar. Seasoned rice vinegar (usually seasoned with sake, sugar and salt) is Japanese and used for flavoring rice and making salad dressings.

5) Sesame Oil: Asian sesame oil is made from toasted or roasted sesame seeds and can be purchased as regular or hot. It has a relatively high smoke point, meaning it can be used for frying, but because it is so aromatic—a little bit goes a long way—it is typically used as a flavoring rather than for cooking purposes. Try drizzling just a little onto noodles or rice—or onto the Turkey Ma Po Tofu pictured above.

6) Hoisin Sauce: Hoisin sauce is made from fermented soybeans, sugar, garlic and red chiles; it’s the dominant flavoring of Chinese BBQ pork and many Chinese noodle dishes like lo mein. That’s probably because it’s so versatile! Hoisin sauce can be used as part of a marinade, stir-fry sauce, meat glaze or as an alternative dipping sauce for dumplings and spring rolls.

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7) Dried Mushrooms: Also known as Chinese black mushrooms, these mushrooms are bolder in flavor than fresh mushrooms and last in the pantry for at least a year. They are great chopped in stir-fries, fried rice, soups and noodle dishes or served whole along with vegetables. To rehydrate, place in a bowl and pour boiling water to cover. Once they are plump (20-30 minutes), discard the woody stems and use per your recipe.

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8) Five-Spice Powder: You might think that the same five spices are used, but they actually vary based on producer. Five-spice powder is usually a combination of cinnamon, aniseed or star anise, fennel seed, Szechuan peppercorns and cloves, and occasionally salt and white pepper. While you can easily buy five-spice powder, I recommend making your own in small batches because of the fresh flavor. Here’s my favorite combination: 1 1/2 teaspoons ground fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon ground star anise, 3/4 teaspoon ground Szechuan pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper. Try it on Five-Spice Tilapia, Roasted Turnips Butternut Squash with Five-Spice Glaze or Clementine Five-Spice Chicken.

9) Frozen Vegetables: Keeping frozen vegetables on hand, such as peas, carrots, corn and green beans, makes it easy to throw together an easy stir-fry or fried rice for a quick weeknight dinner.

10) Rice Dried Noodles: A Chinese meal always contains either rice or noodles. Traditionally, very little meat and fish were served and rice and noodles were meant to “fill you up.” Although I grew up eating sticky white rice, my family has since transitioned to short-grain brown rice, which works just as well in Chinese recipes and provides more good-for-you fiber. Another good reason to stock up on rice: it is considered bad luck to run out of rice because it means your family will not be prosperous. If you aren’t a fan of rice, try Chinese noodles. In an Asian grocery store, dried noodles take up an entire aisle! There are endless types: rice, egg, wheat, soy, soba, instant and more. Find the type you like and keep them on hand for quick weeknight meals, such as Pork Snap Pea Lo Mein.

What are your most essential cooking staples? Tell us what you think below.

Breana Lai, Food Blog, Cooking tips

Breana Lai