Saturday, February 26, 2011

ConAgra Motherhood Healthy Meal Makeovers

Here are the highlights of my recent online cooking connections class. It was a lot of fun and we all shared and recieved many useful tips and recipes. 


Health-conscious moms and cooking enthusiasts gathered in TheMotherhood on February 23, 2011, for the fifth class in the Cooking Connections series, thanks to our awesome partner, ConAgra Foods. The class focused on Healthier Meal Makeovers.

A wealth of information, ideas and recipes was shared, and we’ve collected the most notable items in this summary. However, these women covered SO much ground and had so many great suggestions, the only way to catch them all is to click the “View Talk” button and read the whole conversation!

Let’s dive in! As participant @ArtoftheSpa put it, “Looking forward to chatting healthy food with you all! A passion of mine is indulging without bulging.”

Don’t say “diet”

For many of us, “diet” is a dirty word, implying “short-term, drastic changes,” said host Vanessa Druckman, Chefdruck Musings.

“I don't say diet, either. It's all about moderation and changes,” agreed host Rachel Matthews, A Southern Fairytale.

“This year I am trying to introduce all healthy foods to the whole family,” said co-host Lisa Perez, New York Chica. “I never say the word diet - just healthy.”

“Did you know that there is an entire section of that is dedicated to healthy meals?” asked host Renee Ross, Cutie Booty Cakes. “You can also do a search for your favorite recipes and check the healthy option!”

Here is the link:

“I'm all about healthy food makeovers,” concluded co-host Julie Van Rosendaal, Dinner with Julie. “Making my favorite foods healthier is what helped me lose 165 pounds!”

Keep snacking at bay

It can be hard to resist the temptation to snack while cooking in the kitchen, but “I keep a glass of water close by while I'm cooking,” suggested participant notdiyheather. “I take a sip instead of a bite.”

Added co-host Julie Van Rosendaal, “I chew gum in the kitchen while I'm cooking - keeps me from nibbling!”

“If you're going somewhere where you feel the appetizers might be too tempting -- eat some raw veggies and drink water before you go,” suggested host Rachel Matthews. “You'll be much less tempted to snack on greasy heavy foods when you have accomplished eating healthier beforehand.”

Healthier kids’ snacks

It can be tough to convince kids to align with your healthier habits, but there are ways to work healthy eating into their diets.

“My 7 and 5 year old sons love food they can dip and spread. I make edamame hummus and eggplant dips that they love to put on pita chips or just dip carrots into,” said co-host Ilina Ewen, Dirt and Noise. “And don't underestimate a salad with every meal. I use spinach or arugula with a lemony vinaigrette or homemade buttermilk ranch dressing.”

“My younger daughter loves starchy white foods - pastas, breads, rice, crackers, etc.,” said Emily McKhann. She increases the health factor by using “whole grain versions often.”

A few good healthy snack options for kids:

Popcorn trail mix:

Homemade granola bars:

Suggestions for healthier appetizers:
Most participants admitted their biggest hurdle to healthy appetizers was an addiction to cheese.

In addition, “my problem with apps is that they are small so you end up eating a ton without really getting full but then taking in a lot of unexpected calories,” said co-host Debbi Smith, Debbi Does Dinner Healthy. “Keep it simple, veggies & dip, low fat dip.”

“I love using Egg Beaters, green onions and salt and pepper to make mini egg muffins,” added host Rachel Matthews. “They're always a HUGE hit and super easy to make.”

Participant 1Chef had a suggestion to overcome the all-cheese-all-the-time appetizers: “On that cheese plate, add some beautiful fresh fruit and colorful sliced veggies. Then it's not just about the cheese...”

A few more tips:

I love to use balsamic vinegar to jazz up veggies for appetizers. Drizzled on some roasted pears... yum. (Vanessa Druckman, Chefdruck Musings)

I like to roast asparagus spears and wrap them in Boar's head ham for a cheese-free app! They are a fun finger food! (@ArtoftheSpa)

My kids love hummus. And if you can cut the veggies in fun shapes it's even more fun! (Amanda White, Oh Amanda)

I also doctor up store bought hummus with a squeeze of lemon juice, fresh cracked pepper, oregano, and a drizzle of olive oil. (Ilina Ewen, Dirt and Noise)
Recipes for healthier appetizers

Kale chips:

Vietnamese summer rolls:

Cheesy spinach bites:

Romesco dip, based on roasted red peppers and almonds:
Fruit dip:

Antipasto salsa:

Crispy rosemary hummus:

Spinach, artichoke and cheese dip:

Baked sweet potato chips:

Butternut squash bruschetta:

Zucchini nachos:

Caprese salad on a stick:

Balsamic and thyme roasted Portobello mushrooms:

Quinoa-stuffed bell peppers:

Black bean and corn pico de gallo:


Suggestions for healthier entrees

Appetizers are one thing, but the meal is the main event. It’s important to be mindful of the amount and types of food you are eating to maintain healthy habits.

“Over the last year I've lost about 50 pounds and one of the things that has helped me is the organization of the food on my plate,” said host Renee Ross, Cutie Booty Cakes. “Fill half that plate with veggies and then do a quarter each of starch and protein!”

“Need more vegetables in your meals for kids? For taco night, mix canned pumpkin in with browned ground turkey,” suggested participant Jacky. “Add in shredded carrots to tomato sauce on pizza or pasta, moisten meatloaf with shredded zucchini.”

Co-host Katie Goodman, Good Life Eats, asked, “Do you eat vegetarian on a regular basis even if you are a meat eater? We do! I feel like it helps cut the grocery costs and keeps us eating healthy as we load up on vegetables.”

Co-host Debbi Smith had a suggestion for healthy vegetarian protein intake: “Adding black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas or any beans is a great healthy way to cut back on meat.”

Other tips:

I love soup as a healthy supper! I can hide all sorts of veggies/grains/lentils in it and the kids eat it up. (Wendy O’Neal, Around My Family Table)

Flavor not fat. I'm a fan of reaching into the spice cupboard instead of adding oils or creams to meals. Cumin, chili powder, chipotle and garlic are some of my favorites! (Debbi Smith, Debbi Does Dinner Healthy)

Same w/sweet--add vanilla or cinnamon to trick your tastebuds into thinking sweet! (Amanda White, Oh Amanda)

I also almost always use 1/2 and 1/2 instead of cream in recipes. (Katie Goodman, Good Life Eats)

Teach kids how to load their plates:

Recipes for healthier entrees

Shrimp scampi:

Zucchini chorizo hash, seared scallops, tortilla soup:

Quinoa wrap:

Portabella mushroom fajitas:

Black bean and chicken filling:

Savory slow cooker chicken:

Black bean and pineapple enchiladas:

Sweet turkey and quinoa meatballs:

Salad with chicken and chipotle vinaigrette:

Chicken tortilla soup:

Whole wheat waffles:

Squash French toast sticks:

Suggestions for healthier desserts

One way to make desserts healthier is to substitute or add healthier ingredients.

“I add cooked lentils and pureed kidney beans to my cookies!” said Julie Van Rosendaal, providing this recipe:

“You can usually substitute up to 1/3 of the flour with whole wheat flour,” said Wendy O’Neal, and @ArtoftheSpa threw out the idea of partially replacing butter with applesauce, canned pumpkin or mashed sweet potatoes.

Host Vanessa Druckman, Chefdruck Musings, added, “Use alternative sugars – honey, Stevia, agave, maple syrup.”

Fruit also makes a tasty, healthy dessert. “I love berries, and adding a little vanilla or cinnamon to bananas and berries is a delicious sweet treat,” said host Rachel Matthews.

Deborah agreed, “Smoothies are a staple around here. Bananas and pears seem to make them very creamy without cream or yogurt. We also like frozen berries to get them icy-cold and not so watery.”

“We just made the best dessert...I haven't even written about it yet,” said Wendy O’Neal, Around My Family Table. “I took a waffle ice cream cone and put tiny amount of vanilla ice cream in the bottom, filled it up with fresh fruit, a tiny squirt of whipped cream and topped with coconut!”

Vanessa makes sure her desserts are aesthetically pleasing. “When things are beautiful to look at, they tend to taste better. I love to make up trifles or parfaits,” she said.

Recipes for healthier desserts

Berry pudding trifle:

Grilled pineapple with caramel sauce:

Grilled peaches:

Fresh peaches and basil:

Broiled grapefruit:

Grapefruit basil sorbet:

Clementine sorbet:

One-ingredient banana ice cream:

Pumpkin spice Bundt cake:

Chocolate soufflé:

Triple chocolate banana muffins:

Lower-fat chocolate chip cookie:

Black bean brownies:

Low-fat chocolate cake:

Gluten-free chocolate quinoa cake:

Crustless pumpkin pie:

Flax seed apple crisp with oat crust:

A hearty thanks to our wonderful hosts:

Vanessa Druckman, Chefdruck Musings,
Rachel Matthews, A Southern Fairytale,
Renee Ross, Cutie Booty Cakes,

And our incredible co-hosts:
Christine Satterfield, I Dream of Clean,
Ilina Ewen, Dirt and Noise,
Serena Yuen Beltz, The Urban Suburbanite,
Lisa Perez, New York Chica,
Katie Goodman, Good Life Eats,
Wendy O'Neal, Around My Family Table,
Amanda White, Oh Amanda,
Debbi Smith, Debbi Does Dinner Healthy,
Denise Sawyer, Wholesome Mommy,
Julie Van Rosendaal, Dinner with Julie,

And a BIG thank you to our partner, ConAgra Foods!


  1. What a great resource! No way I could make this list.. :/

  2. Look at the whole list of healthy and delicious treat!

  3. What a GREAT post! Chock full of so many delicious recipes I want to try!

  4. Great informative post, Debbi. Can't wait to check them all out, one by one.
    Drinking water is key, I think.

  5. Lots of great tips Debbi! And packed with good recipe ideas! I like yours the best - the one about adding spices. Congrats - you won the Doughboy apron! Please email me your address