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Bread And Butter: Healthy New Year


I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Eric Carle’s classic children’s book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” Do you remember it? My December was a bit stressful, okay? And although I didn’t eat through a 15-pound stick of salted salami, as the poor bloated caterpillar did, at some point last month I did buy an entire wheel of brie with full knowledge that I’m the only one in the house who likes it. And I don’t have it anymore.


Near the end of the book, just before turning into a beautiful butterfly, and just after a Saturday-evening carousel through a well-stocked pantry, the caterpillar chooses to eat “through one nice green leaf and feels much better.” Ya, I’m there too, buddy. Somewhere in the last month, chocolate became one of the four food groups on my table every night. And oh, the homemade caramels in their little twists of wax paper that kept arriving through the door. How can you possibly turn down a piece of homemade caramel? It’s homemade!


My body is ready for some nutrient dense leafage and whole grains. It not only makes me feel better, it can taste pretty delicious too. If you are emerging from your Holiday Food Cocoon, here are some healthy eating ideas for you to explore:


First, lentils. We all could use a little luck this year. I don’t know about you, but I’m not leaving things up to chance. Tradition has long held that some foods are luckier than others. In Italy lentils are considered an auspicious sign of prosperity. The little legumes are shaped like coins, and they swell as they are cooked, a sure signal of increased wealth. Whether or not lentils really pump up your pocketbook, eating them will no doubt do you good. They are arguably one of the healthiest grains out there. They contain high levels of protein, and when combined with rice, are a complete protein. They have cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, as well as about twice as much iron as other legumes (which helps deliver oxygen to your muscles). Lentils also contain, folate, vitamin B1, and minerals. They are inexpensive, easy to prepare, and low in calories and fat.


A lentil’s nutty flavor compliments something like a hearty soup. They absorb the meaty taste of a broth and garlic to give the soup a mouthwatering savor. If you Google lentil soup recipe, you’ll find a plethora of easy options to try.


Another Italian favorite is the grain farro. It looks like a fat version of whole-kernel wheat, but it’s got a toothy bite, and is less bitter than white wheat. Farro can make a great warm breakfast in place of something like oatmeal. The only trick is that you have to soak the grains overnight before you cook them in the morning. 

It’s easy enough. Just cover them with water and throw them in the fridge. Then, in the morning you can simmer them until they are tender and swollen, about 10 minutes, and eat them warm with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. They are tasty, believe it or not, and surprisingly filling. And you can save the leftovers to throw on a salad or to add to a soup for a little satisfying texture and bite. Farro is a great source of fiber, iron, protein and magnesium. With all of those nutrients in this little grain, it can provide a lot of health benefits to combat diabetes and for heart and brain health.



Finally, Winter Squash. We had a bumper crop of winter squash from our garden last year, and we’re slowly working our way through the stash in our basement. If you aren’t sure about the difference between summer and winter squash, summer varieties are thin-skinned like zucchini. Winter squash is thick-skinned, sometimes requiring a hatchet and a strong wrist to get through. But it’s worth it, especially during these produce-starved winter months. 

I’ve moved beyond your typical salt-and-butter approach to the dish for variety’s sake. My new favorite is using the golden flesh of the dense squash as a base for a Mexican-esque casserole. I cut it in half and seed it, and then nuke both halves in the microwave until it is tender enough to scoop. Then I layer a good amount into a baking dish, and smother it with salsa, black beans, seasoned ground beef and shredded cheddar cheese. Then you just throw the whole thing into a moderate oven until the cheese is gooey and the tips of the squash are a bit golden, pull it out, and add sour cream and chopped cilantro. Voila,  you’ll be eating pretty and healthy for at least the next few few meals.


If you are taking a page out of this book with your post-holiday eating, I’d be interested in hearing what your “nice green leaf” consists of, whether you are trying something new or perfecting a tried-and-true favorite.