The word “healthy” in relation to food can get mixed results at best.
“Most people have a preconceived notion that if something is labeled 'healthy,' it’s flavorless and it’s not as good as something that is not-so-healthy,” said Sara Wells, of Boise, in a phone interview with the Deseret News. She and Kate Jones, who lives near Alexandria, Louisiana, are behind the blog Our Best Bites at ourbestbites.com.
“We’ve both found a balance in our own lives,” Wells said. “We knew we could make really good food that was healthy.”
Their version of healthy, she added, is “food that’s enjoyable for your family, that’s good for your body and includes healthy things.” They also strive for a balance in food to create an overall healthy lifestyle.
And they discovered something else about their healthy food.
“People weren’t really recognizing it because it tasted good and it was normal food,” Wells said.
Wells and Jones included 65 healthy recipes in their new book, “400 Calories or Less with Our Best Bites” (Shadow Mountain, $21.99). The recipes range from breakfasts, soups, salads, snacks and desserts to main dishes divided into pasta, poultry, beef, pork, seafood and meatless meals categories. Each recipe has a full-color photo.
Included among the recipes are new ones they’ve developed, as well as a few from their blog that already had 400 or fewer calories per serving or that they made over to fit that requirement.
In making recipes healthier, they start with the “building blocks” — lean proteins, fruits and vegetables.
“Where things start to add up are in fattier cuts of meat, oils, cheeses and things like that,” Jones said. “We use those leaner, healthier building blocks and add some of the extras in smaller amounts.”
They use herbs and spices and other flavorings to help boost the flavor, Jones said, rather than relying solely on sugars and fats.
But the sugars, oils and fats are still present, just in smaller amounts.
“We’re using all of the real stuff, just in the right amounts, and that is really the key to cooking healthy,” Wells said.
Nutrition information, including calories, carbs, sugars, fat, fiber and protein, is included with each recipe (but is only accurate if cooks follow the recipe and don’t swap out some of the lower-calorie ingredients for their higher-calorie counterparts).
Jones and Wells also include notes on many of the recipes, such as add-on options and a calorie count for each; cooking and shopping tips; and ways to alter the recipes, whether with substitutions or by adding more vegetables. They also have authors’ notes about the history of a recipe, as well as other interesting tidbits scattered throughout the book.
As with their previous cookbooks, “Our Best Bites: Mormon Moms in the Kitchen” and “Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites,” “400 Calories or Less with Our Best Bites” includes a rollover index for fresh ingredients that may be left over from one recipe and can be used in another.
They’ve included four pages with the title “The Salad Bar” to help put together a salad that doesn’t end up with more than 1,000 calories. They have salad combinations, including dressing ideas, along with a chart of many common salad bar items that lists the calories, fat, carbohydrate, sugar, fiber and protein information for small serving sizes.
“Building a salad is fun, but it can also be kind of deceiving,” Wells said. “There are a lot of things that can throw off the nutritional value of a salad.”
Jones added that there are ideas for additional things to put on a salad to mix it up a bit.
“Eating the same thing every day, for me, is a recipe for dieting disaster,” Jones said, describing how she can get into a “salad rut.”
Wells, a mother of four, said many of the recipes are kid-friendly or can be adapted easily or served differently to help children like them, such as a salad that’s wrapped in a tortilla.
“It’s providing options so that there are some easy adaptations, so you’re not cooking two different meals and kids are learning to try new things and eat new flavors at the same time,” Wells said.
Jones said her three children can be picky, and they’ve “weathered this change really well.
“... I don’t think we give children enough credit for what they’ll eat and they’ll try,” she added.
A few years ago, Wells lost about 50 pounds. She didn’t go on a specific diet plan, but instead made some lifestyle changes, such as looking at what she was eating, that were easier to implement and continue.
“For me, eating is an emotional and social experience,” Jones said, adding that specific diet plans have felt restrictive to her. She uses principles of moderation and balance in recognizing what works in creating the right plan for her.
“Recognizing all of these healthy habits leads to a healthy and happy life,” she said.
Pizza Pasta Bake
"Pizza" in the title of any recipe is always a good thing. This dish takes all of the classic pizza pie flavors and packs them into one hearty, cheesy, family friendly casserole.
Makes: 6 (1½ cup) servings
3 cups rotini pasta
1½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 medium green pepper, diced
1½ cups sliced mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces Italian turkey sausage links, casings removed
2 ounces turkey pepperoni, cut into quarters (about 1 cup)
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ tablespoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon marjoram
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.
3. Heat an extra-large skillet to medium-high heat. Add olive oil. Add onion and green pepper and stir frequently for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add mushrooms and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring often. Move vegetables to one side of pan and add sausage.
4. Use a spatula to break up meat into small pieces and continue cooking until cooked through. Add pepperoni and stir everything to combine.
5. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, balsamic vinegar, Italian seasoning, marjoram and salt. Bring tomato mixture to a low simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat and add pasta, stirring to combine all ingredients.
6. Transfer mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and top with cheese. Bake for 30 minutes until cheese is melted and casserole is hot and bubbly throughout. Remove from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Nutrition: Calories: 335; carbs: 39g; sugars: 7g; fat: 119; fiber: 4g; protein: 21g
Add-on options: side salad; garlic bread: 1 slice whole wheat bread with 1½ teaspoons butter, 2 teaspoons crumbled Parmesan cheese and garlic bread seasoning to taste. Broil until golden brown: 180 calories
Alternatives: Feel free to add your own favorite pizza toppings and vegetables, such as olives, pepperoncinis or spicy chili flakes. For a different spin on presentation, bake each serving in individual ramekins or oven-safe bowls.
— "400 Calories or Less with Our Best Bites" by Sara Wells and Kate Jones
Grilled Pico Steak
A quick and easy marinade makes this steak perfect for a weeknight dinner or for entertaining guests.
Makes: 6 servings (serving size is 4 ounces steak with 2/3 cup vegetable mixture)
1¾ pounds skirt steak
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ teaspoons liquid smoke
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes
1 small to medium red onion
1 medium ripe avocado
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1. Place steak in a shallow baking pan. Zest lime and place zest in a small bowl. Reserve remaining lime. To the bowl of lime zest, add garlic, liquid smoke, vinegar, olive oil, chili powder, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and then rub over both sides of steak. Let steak rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours in the fridge.
2. Preheat barbecue grill to medium-high heat. Layer 2 sheets of heavy-duty foil, about 10-by-10-inches. Fold up edges of foil to create a small "pan." Place tomatoes on the foil pan and spray lightly with cooking spray.
3. Cut the top off onion and remove outer papery layer, leaving root intact. Cut onion into 8 wedges through the root, so that each wedge is being held together with a small piece of the root. Spray each wedge lightly with cooking spray and add to foil pan with tomatoes.
4. Place steak on hot grill. Place foil pan of tomatoes and onion directly on grill surface. (If you have an upper rack on your grill, place vegetables there.) Cook steak for about 5 minutes on each side, or until an internal thermometer registers 135 degrees F. Remove steak from grill and tent with foil for at least 5 minutes before slicing.
5. Lightly toss tomatoes until charred and skins just barely start to split. Turn onion until slightly softened and grill marks appear. Remove vegetables from heat as soon as they are finished cooking.
6. While steak is resting, chop onion wedges into large chunks, discarding root tips. Place tomatoes and onion in a bowl. Add the juice from reserved lime and cilantro. Cut avocado into chunks, and add. Salt and pepper to taste. Gently toss together.
7. Slice steak into thin strips and top each serving with tomato mixture.
Nutrition: Calories: 294; carbs: 8g; sugars: 3g; fat: 16g; fiber: 3g; protein: 30g
• ½ cup cooked quinoa or brown rice with a squeeze of lime juice, ½ teaspoon olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste: 130 calories
• ½ cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained, and heated with desired seasonings (we suggest a dash of cumin, garlic, salt and pepper): 120 calories
• 1 small tortilla: 110 calories (flour), 50 calories (corn)
Cooking tip: No outdoor grill? Cook on an indoor grill pan, and cook tomatoes in a nonstick skillet on the stove top.
Shopping tip: Can't find skirt steak? Try flank steak instead.
Rollover ingredients: cilantro, lime
Author's note: I will take pico de gallo in any form, which was the inspiration for this meal. It's one of my absolute favorites, especially when eaten on the back porch on a warm summer night. — Sara Wells
— "400 Calories or Less with Our Best Bites" by Sara Wells and Kate Jones
If you go ...
What: Kate Jones book signing
When: Wednesday, April 8, 6 p.m.
Where: Deseret Book, 1309 N. Main, Suite 150, Logan
What: Sara Wells and Kate Jones book signing and olive oils sampling
When: Thursday, April 9, 6:30-8 p.m.
Where: The Orson H. Gygi Store, 300 W. 3500 South, Salt Lake City,
Notes: Event is free, RSVP required at http://www.gygi.com/our-best-bites-book-signing.html
What: Sara Wells and Kate Jones book signing
When: Friday, April 10, 6 p.m.
Where: Deseret Book Salt Lake Downtown, 45 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
When: Saturday, April 11, 1-3 p.m.
Where: Deseret Book, University Village, 1076 S. 750 East, Orem
Email: [email protected]; Twitter: CTRappleye