A New Chance for New Year’s Resolutions!

If you’re anything like me, you feel like you’ve just gotten your home back “to normal” after the holidays, and BAM!!! It’s February already! February! That rude fact started me on my recurring internal discussion about how can time possibly fly by so fast—and as it does, does it earn loyalty miles? (Oops, I digress). And it was during this discussion that I made the annoying observation that I haven’t even officially made my New Year’s resolutions, let alone started fulfilling them.

But before I could get too worked up about things, I was blessed with the most perfect rationalization, courtesy of my favorite local Chinese restaurant. In this, the first week of February, the restaurant was still festooned with decorations for Chinese New Year celebrations. That’s right, the Chinese new year was only rung in on January 31st, and although I’m not Chinese, when fate hands you a juicy opportunity like this to reset your own inner calendar and expectations for 2014, you accept it oh so graciously and don’t ask too many questions. So, for me, my new year has now just begun, and I invite you to join me in tossing away any regrets you’ve already accumulated in 2014 and to begin the year afresh—today!

So if it’s been slow going with your resolutions, or you feel like you’ve already given up on them, or you never even found the time to make any that you would have liked to, just take a leap of faith and hit the reset button with me. And to help you make this go-round more successful than any in the past, I’m giving you a special bonus gift: 5 Tips to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions!

1. Choose Realistic Goals.

This might seem obvious, but many of us trip over this very first step. If you’re of a certain age and saw the recent photo of Christie Brinkley at 60 on the cover of People magazine, and then resolved to look just like her—you’ve already set yourself up for failure. If you’ve pledged to strike it rich this year, and given yourself just a year to do it in, you’ve already stacked the deck against yourself. Losing weight or making more money are both perfectly realistic goals, but becoming a supermodel (even an older one) or the next Bill Gates is a tad overly ambitious—at least in the short term. Keep your goals realistic, then take the next step.

2. Define Your Goals.

Again, if weight loss is your goal, saying that you’re going to lose weight is not enough. Take a serious, honest look at yourself and come up with an estimate of how much weight you want to lose this year. Write down that figure for yourself. If making more money is your goal, how much? What is a realistic figure to shoot for this year? Write it down. Whatever your goal is, make it concrete and measurable. This way you’ll know what your real goal is; how you’re doing along the way; and whether you’ve reached it by the end of your effort.

3. Develop Your Strategy.

So far you’ve been honing in on your goals. This is when you get to the nitty-gritty. What exactly do you need to do to reach your realistic, well-defined goals? If you’re trying to lose weight, just contact California Chef and they’ll take care of the rest. Just kidding! I didn’t come all this way just to give myself a plug. But, on the other hand, this is a real strategy. We’ll calculate your calories, measure out your proteins/carbs/healthy fats portions, make your meals to your taste specifications, and delivery them to your home. You just heat and eat.

But whether you call on us for help, or go it alone, you need a specific strategy for how you’re going to eat the correct foods in the correct quantities to meet your goal. Be sure to include a realistic exercise component as well, since this will hasten your weight loss. And come up with a schedule for all of the above.

If you’re going to make your own meals, allocate the time you’ll need to research what’s appropriate, shop for the proper ingredients, and prepare your healthy choices. Mark on your calendar or app or however you keep your schedule the exact times you’re going to exercise, whether that’s taking walks at your lunch breaks, taking classes at your fitness facility, or taking the time to burn some calories at home. Keep track of how things are going. If you find you’re not really able to get to your spin class on Tuesdays because of the new Team Meeting at work, or your lunchtime walk buddies come up with too many detours to the neighborhood cupcake shop, make some changes. Your successful strategy is not set in stone; it is a work in progress. If something is not working, make the effort to fix it. Don’t just let your goals fizzle away by not keeping track of your progress and adjusting your efforts as needed.

4. Don’t Get Discouraged by Setbacks.

The road to success is almost never a straight line. Although you should work diligently to keep to your strategy and schedule, don’t be surprised if you goof things up once in a while. You’re not perfect, and you’re likely to hit some roadblocks on your way to your goal. Don’t let this discourage you! If you stumble, figure out what tripped you up, and come up with a tweak to your strategy to avoid such a misstep in the future. Your goal is not to be perfect, but to be better. I even know people who switch calendars in February just to get themselves back on track;)

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help.

Some—if not most—worthwhile goals are best achieved with some assistance. If you’re trying to quit smoking, tell all your smoking buddies, and ask for their assistance in keeping you on the straight and narrow if you feel yourself looking to light up. Exercising, on the other hand, is a classic positive activity that is easier to stick with if you’re doing it with someone else—or a group of someone elses. If you know so and so will be expecting you at the gym, or at walk time, or at Pilates class, you’ll be more motivated to show up—even on those occasions when you’re not looking all that forward to doing so.

And if your goal is really something so important to you that you’re willing to make the effort outlined above to achieve it, share your goal with the people in your life that matter most. During tough times, they can be there to encourage you to struggle through, and just opening up to them about why your goal is important to you and why you’re determined to achieve it will make you more accountable to the person who should really matter most to you—yourself!

 

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Super Tasty Nachos for the Super Bowl!

If at this point on Super Bowl Sunday, you haven’t come up with a strategy for your game day snack for yourself and anyone you might be watching the game with, this is your 2-minute warning! But unlike how things work in the NFL, I not only give you your 2-minute warning, I give you a great idea for your next play: Guiltless Turkey Nachos!

We make these in the kitchen, and customers and staff love them. They’re very tasty, and with the modifications we’ve made to keep them healthy, there’s no guilt involved in enjoying them. The following recipe is for a serving for 1 person, since my crystal ball is a little cloudy on not only who’s going to win today’s game but how many people are going to be watching it with you. Just multiply the recipe by the number of folks who are going to be digging in. And since it’s late in the game, you should know that, in addition to tasting great without adding weight, these nachos can be made in a snap! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist one more football reference;) Enjoy!

Guiltless Turkey Nachos: 340 Calories

1 brown rice tortilla (or whole wheat)

¼ cup pinto beans

¼ cup salsa

2 oz. cooked lean ground turkey

¼ cup 2% Mexican cheese

2 tsp. chopped cilantro

2 tsp. chopped green onion

2 tsp. chopped jalapeños

  1. Spray the tortilla w/olive oil cooking spray and cut into 8 wedges. Place on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes until crispy.
  2. Place 6 of the tortilla chips on the bottom of a plate.
  3. Spread beans on chips.
  4. Toss turkey in salsa and then spread over beans.
  5. Sprinkle cheese on top of turkey, and then top with cilantro, onions, and jalapeños.
  6. Microwave or bake in oven when ready to eat.
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A warm holiday season welcome to all of you—complete with So Cal weather Santa would feel right at home with. Well, it’s that time of year again, and in what has become something of a holiday tradition, I’m re-posting a blog I did a couple of years ago that always gets a lot of comments and thanks from readers. It’s my own little recipe for maximizing holiday cheer—while minimizing holiday regrets. I hope you find it helpful reading. Happy Holidays!

Enjoying holiday cheer is good. Repeatedly saying “Cheers” and knocking back cocktails all night long—not so much. In addition to being loaded with lots of useless calories, alcohol often leads to lousy food choices. So, limit yourself to maybe one drink at the party or family gathering, and otherwise stick to low-cal soft drinks, sparkling or still water.

Choose what you eat carefully—and then savor the flavor. At parties or get-togethers, consider choosing only those foods that are special this time of year, and skip over the items you can have any old time. Make a point of taking in the look and aroma of your special choices before digging in. Then enjoy them slowly to maximize the experience. Doing so should give you big-time enjoyment with minimal caloric intake.

Don’t forget the stocking stuffers. Don’t throw all your good eating habits out the window this time of year. As you’re hitting the buffet table, remember to grab some of those vegetables that are probably sitting next to the dip and whatever fruit might be available. Drink plenty of water too. Having these “stuffers” alongside your chosen special treats will help you feel fuller faster, leading to less overeating and weight gain.

Get enough ZZZ’s to balance out the Ho Ho Ho’s. During this hectic time, it’s key to get enough sleep. When you’re feeling run-down or tired, you might be tempted to grab some high-sugar or high-fat foods to try to give yourself an energy jolt. But the rushes that result are only temporary—the pounds hang around for considerably longer!

Give yourself the gift of understanding. The tips above should help you avoid gaining weight this holiday season, but don’t get too down on yourself if you slip up a time or two. Do your best, but acknowledge that this is just a challenging time of year for eating right. Enjoy the company of family and friends, the—perhaps—unexpected good humor of certain usually-world-weary workmates, and the sights and sounds of the season. After all, things will be back to normal all too soon.

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Ingredient Spotlight: Butternut Squash

This is the first of a series of new occasional features for this blog in which I’ll be highlighting a particular ingredient or set of ingredients that we’re using in the kitchen and share a little bit about why we use them. I’m starting with butternut squash today because we’ve definitely made the transition to autumn in the kitchen and have started to serve up this delicious seasonal squash as a nutritious vegetable option.

Part of the pumpkin family, butternut squash is a natural choice in a healthy diet for a number of reasons:  It’s low in calories, high in fiber, and is a rich source of antioxidants (the beneficial chemicals that fight off free radicals—rogue atoms that can harm cells and maybe even lead to cancer). And since butternut squash tastes so good naturally, we can prepare it in a way that showcases its flavor without diminishing its nutritious value. Great taste and great for you! That’s the kind of ingredient that deserves to be in the spotlight.

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Get Nutty With Kettle Corn!

Need a quick snack to satisfy your sweet and salty cravings? Try a crazy-fast and easy recipe I adapted from the one we use in the kitchen for Nutty Kettle Corn! At only 179 calories per serving, you’ll see why this healthy snack is a favorite at home.

  1. Follow package directions to pop 1 bag of Orville Redenbacher’s butter flavored smartpop! popcorn (94% fat free).
  2. Empty the popcorn into a bowl.
  3. Spray popcorn with PAM butter spray and toss with 1 teaspoon of zero calorie sweetener or Stevia and a dash of salt.
  4. Top with 2 teaspoons of sliced roasted almonds.

Try it out and let me know if enjoy it as much as I do!

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Chef’s Husband on a Diet—Maybe Great News Is Worth Waiting For!

OK, I definitely dropped the ball on this series of blogs, but the silver lining is that my efforts to lose weight and get in shape have not been as abysmal as my attempts to report on those efforts. Proof of that came in my yearly physical a few weeks ago, which included the usual blood tests. The results were highly encouraging. My weight has dropped to a healthy 205 lbs. from the hefty 226.5 lbs. that I reported in my first blog in this series back in February of last year. In addition, I had my best cholesterol readings of the last decade or so! Here they are.  (I’ve also included last year’s levels for comparison.)

Cholesterol Measure

2013 Level

2012 Level

Healthy Level

Ideal Level

Total Cholesterol

157

212

Below 200

Below 200

HDL (“Good”) Cholesterol

44

49

Above 40

60 or higher

LDL (“Bad”) Cholesterol

94

130

100 to 129

  Below 100*

Triglycerides

93

156

Below 150

Below 100

                                                                            *For high-risk individuals, the ideal level is below 70.

The good news is that for every cholesterol reading, my current levels fall within the healthy range as defined by the American Heart Association and the majority of cardiovascular specialists. And for every measure but one, I made significant improvements over last year’s numbers. Now, I’m not reporting these figures because I think you’re really all that interested in my personal numbers; I’m reporting them to give you encouragement about your own ability to make positive changes for yourself. After all, if someone with the high-stress, long-hours , sedentary job that I have—and a proclivity for making unwise choices about dealing with same—can make some significantly positive changes to his own health profile, then you can too!

How did I do it? Well, as I mentioned in previous posts, one of my weaknesses that led to my blimping up in the first place was my enjoyment of going out and having a few drinks with dinner as often as possible. This was an easy way to wind down after a long day, and the ritual helped me feel like I was wringing out at least a little fun from the end of every day. The problem was that this habit was unhealthy—and unsustainable. I cut back gradually at first, in fits and starts, and then after the first of this year, I made a commitment to get serious and begin the real effort I had blogged about last year.

I can unabashedly say that I switched over to eating the delicious, nutritious dinners offered by California Chef’s diet meal service every weeknight (in addition to sticking w/ the California Chef breakfasts and lunches that I’d already been enjoying), and on those occasions during the weekend when I did go out, I ordered alcohol only rarely and still made the healthiest choices restaurant menus would allow. I had a hunch that the results of my new choices would, over time, bring me more happiness and satisfaction than my old strategy. And I was right!

I’m elated about my cholesterol numbers, and I don’t have to deal with the guilt that occasionally cropped up during my old meals. I still have some work to do, and I still need to somehow carve out more time for exercise, but I’ve put a firm foundation in place, and now the competitor in me wants to do whatever it takes to have my numbers at my 2014 physical blow my current ones out of the water! So, I’m going to keep up my current efforts, sprinkle in some additional ones, and fill you in every once in awhile on my progress. But, more importantly, I urge you to do the same! Make the healthy changes in your life that you’ve been putting off—whether they involve California Chef meal delivery services or not. Then write us and tell us about your success!

 

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Reset Your Clocks—Reset Your Life!

This Saturday night (well, officially 2:00 am this Sunday morning) is time to once again set our clocks forward by 1 hour to kick off Daylight Saving Time. Although some might find it a drag to lose an hour of sleep on Saturday night, I’ve always felt this inconvenience a small price to pay for having more sun to enjoy when you get home from work in the evenings! With spring just around the corner bringing warmer temps and more sunshine to enjoy, this is also a great time to cast aside bad habits we may have fallen into during the dark days of winter.

Although we don’t suffer as much as folks back East during the colder months of the year, statistics show that many Americans tend to cocoon in the winter, holing up indoors and putting on weight lounging—and eating—around the house. Starting next week, why not use the extra hour of daylight to get outdoors after work to start taking brisk walks, or get the bike tuned up and get out there for some evening rides? The Center for Disease Control tells us to get at least 2 ½ hours of exercise per week. So pick an exercise you like and get to it. Doing so can help in losing weight, reducing blood pressure, and cutting the risk for cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

Spring is also a great time to get our eating habits back in shape. Needless to say, California Chef can help you ensure that you’re getting the right combination of lean proteins, healthy carbs, and proper fats that good health requires. But if you’re out of our delivery area and doing things on your own, be sure to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains every day. Also remember to limit your intake of food and drinks that are high in calories, sugar, salt, fats, or alcohol. Feel free to look through some of our past blogs to get some great ideas for tasty, healthy treats that are sure to please the palate in guilt-free style!

I wish you all the best in your spring transition, and please let me know what you’re most looking forward to this time of year—and if there’s anything in particular food- or health-wise you’d like to read more about in upcoming blogs this season. You can contact me at denise@californiachef.com

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How to Sneak Exercise into Your Busy Day—Chef Denise’s 10 x 10

As the executive chef of Los Angeles’s best diet meal delivery service, I know how important it is to eat healthy, nutritious food. Unfortunately, this is only part of the equation for a healthy lifestyle; we all know we need to exercise too.

However, few know better than me how hard it can be to make time to exercise during a busy day. When I work in the kitchen, I at least feel like I’m moving around and burning some calories. However, I have recently had to spend much more time in the office sitting at a desk, and I can feel my metabolism slowing down with each passing hour. My typical day usually has me starting work at 4 or 5 am, so waking earlier to exercise is not really an option. I go to tap class at Agoura Hills Dance twice a week but that just isn’t enough to combat my long hours on the computer. So I have come up with a new program—Chef Denise’s 10 x 10. It’s so simple and can be done anywhere! Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick 10 things that you do regularly every day: for example, brushing your teeth, getting out of the car, grabbing a document off the printer, etc.
  2. Assign a different simple exercise that you can do anywhere without equipment to do before, after, or during each activity. For example, touching your knee to your elbow, squats, leg lifts, arm circles, waist twists—anything that gets you moving!
  3. Each time throughout the day that you do one of the 10 things on your list, perform 10 reps of the specific exercise that you’ve assigned to that activity. For example, every time I wash my hands, I do 10 demi-pliés.

Granted, this regimen will not get you 6-pack abs, but it will keep you moving and therefore help rev up your metabolism without taking up a big chunk of your day. Ideally, you should still strive to incorporate a minimum of five ½-hour sessions of moderate aerobic exercise into each week, but when that is simply not possible, the 10 x 10’s are much better than doing nothing at all! So, take a step toward a healthy 2013 and let me know how it goes.

 

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Don’t Be Haunted by Ghosts of Christmas Past

We received so many “thank you” tweets and emails about my blog last year at this holiday time concerning tips for responsibly enjoying the bounty of the season that I’ve decided to re-post it here. I hope it helps one and all avoid the mistakes of the season that may have left some with a bad taste in the past . . .

It’s probably no surprise that this season when Christmas trees get trimmed is also the time when waistlines get expanded. But by following a few guidelines, it is not too difficult to enjoy the celebrations of the season without packing on the pounds.

Enjoying holiday cheer is good. Repeatedly saying “Cheers” and knocking back cocktails all night long—not so much. In addition to being loaded with lots of useless calories, alcohol often leads to lousy food choices. So, limit yourself to maybe one drink at the party or family gathering, and otherwise stick to low-cal soft drinks, sparkling or still water.

Choose what you eat carefully—and then savor the flavor. At parties or get-togethers, consider choosing only those foods that are special this time of year, and skip over the items you can have any old time. Make a point of taking in the look and aroma of your special choices before digging in. Then enjoy them slowly to maximize the experience. Doing so should give you big-time enjoyment with minimal caloric intake.

Don’t forget the stocking stuffers. Don’t throw all your good eating habits out the window this time of year. As you’re hitting the buffet table, remember to grab some of those vegetables that are probably sitting next to the dip and whatever fruit might be available. Drink plenty of water too. Having these “stuffers” alongside your chosen special treats will help you feel fuller faster, leading to less overeating and weight gain.

Get enough ZZZ’s to balance out the Ho Ho Ho’s. During this hectic time, it’s key to get enough sleep. When you’re feeling run-down or tired, you might be tempted to grab some high-sugar or high-fat foods to try to give yourself an energy jolt. But the rushes that result are only temporary—the pounds hang around for considerably longer!

Give yourself the gift of understanding. The tips above should help you avoid gaining weight this holiday season, but don’t get too down on yourself if you slip up a time or two. Do your best, but acknowledge that this is just a challenging time of year for eating right. Enjoy the company of family and friends, the—perhaps—unexpected good humor of certain usually-world-weary workmates, and the sights and sounds of the season. After all, things will be back to normal all too soon.

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Kale and Quinoa: A Match Made in Healthy Food Heaven

Kale and quinoa are independently soaring to the top of everyone’s healthy food lists these days. Kale is quickly becoming the queen of greens.  It’s high in fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, and K. Quinoa (pronounced keenwa) is a healthy grain originating in the Andes region of South American and is also high in antioxidants and an excellent source of protein. So, what could be better for you than a dish that combines both? Here’s a California Chef recipe for a kale and quinoa combo that can be eaten hot or cold as a lunch or side dish.

  1. Wisk together 1½ cups of vegetable broth, ½ cup lemon juice, 2 tablespoons minced garlic, and ½ cup extra virgin olive oil and set aside.
  2. Cut 4 cups of raw kale into thin strips and put in a bowl.
  3. Coat kale well with ½ of the lemon juice and olive oil mixture and let sit for ½ hr.
  4. After the kale has finished its time-out, add 2½ cups cooked quinoa, ¼ cup dried cranberries, ½ cup grated carrot, 2 tablespoons sliced roasted almonds, and 2 teaspoons of fresh chopped mint.
  5. Add remaining lemon juice and olive oil mixture and toss all together.

For a slightly heartier version, just add some shredded cooked chicken or feta cheese. Enjoy!

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