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Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, October 26 and 27, 2013
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Pump Up the Flavor!

This year's National Nutrition Month theme is "Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right." The foods we should be eating more of—whole unprocessed or minimally processed foods—have unique natural flavors, but let's admit it, they often don't have the punch of processed foods that are loaded with salt, sugar, and artificial flavor enhancers. How do you make plain whole grains like brown rice or quinoa palatable without using the salt shaker? Is your elegant two-tiered spice rack used more for decor than function?

Jeremy Sewall plating a mixed green salad with toasted spice vinaigrette

Slow-roasted salmon and toasted barley seasoned with fennel, curry powder and orange zest To meet that challenge, Stop & Shop hosted a tasting event at Boston University last week with Julie Menounos, their nutritionist, and Jeremy Sewall, owner and executive chef of the popular restaurants Lineage, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Row 34. What better way to learn how to season food properly than from a top chef? At this hands-on cooking class they demonstrated five recipes with an abundant use of fresh herbs and spices. Julie also provided several takeaway tips to help give your everyday meals a flavor boost while controlling sodium:

  • Keep it real. Approximately 75% of salt we consume is already in our foods. Processed foods are our biggest source of excess sodium. Make it a point to try one new fruit, vegetable or whole grain each week. 
  • Read labels. Look for products labeled “sodium-free” (less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving), “very low sodium” (35 milligrams or less per serving), “low sodium” (140 milligrams or less per serving) or “no salt added.” Beware that low and fat-free products often contain more sodium than the original version.
  • Get in the kitchen. Preparing your own meals is the best way to control how much sodium goes into your food.
  • Retrain your taste buds. It may take up to three months for your body to adjust to eating less salt and sugar, so cut back gradually.
  • Stock your spice rack. The 10 basic everyday herbs and spices include: black pepper, oregano, rosemary, ground cinnamon, red pepper, cumin, basil, ground ginger, basil, garlic powder and chili powder. Also stock up on no-salt-added spice blends like Mrs. Dash and McCormick Perfect Pinch.
  • Remove the salt and salt shaker. If a recipe calls for a pinch of salt, replace it with an herb or spice. Salt-free don’t mean taste-free. You can try rosemary, marjoram, thyme, tarragon, onion or garlic powder, curry powder, pepper, nutmeg, cumin, ginger, cilantro, bay leaf, oregano, dry mustard, or dill.
  • Dress with low-fat flavors. Add vinegar (rice, balsamic, white wine) or citrus juice to foods just before eating. Vinegar is great on vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, cooked or raw. Most vinegars are calorie-free, though seasoned rice vinegar contains sugar and salt. Citrus like lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit are delicious on fish, berries, broccoli and salad greens.
  • Add dried fruits and vegetables to your favorite  dishes. Sun dried tomatoes, chili peppers, dried mushrooms (soaked), raisins, figs and currants can add big flavor without a lot of calories.
  • Don’t fear unsaturated fats. Enjoy the taste and health benefits of liquid fats such as veggie oils, avocado, fatty fish, nuts and seeds. Try all kinds—olive and grapeseed oil, walnuts and almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Toasting nuts and seeds adds a smoky flavor and crunch to salads and brown rice.
  • If you’re dining out, try more ethnic cuisines. Choose a restaurant that features food from Asia, Europe or Africa. These restaurants often feature unique seasonal vegetables on their menu that would allow you to try something new.

I was unable to get away from work to attend this event but I tested a few of their recipes at home. I liked their pancake recipe because it was so easy to make and used ingredients I already had. The only downside was that the carrots didn't have time to cook so they were still crunchy. I'd suggest shredding them very fine (e.g., julienned) and/or sauteeing them for a few minutes before adding them to the batter. The honey and almond topping is delicious and the bananas add plenty of sweetness so you won't miss the usual added sugar in the batter!

Whole Wheat Carrot Pancakes with Honey and Almonds

(Makes 8 medium pancakes; 1 serving = 2 pancakes)


2 very ripe bananas

2 large eggs

½ cup whole wheat flour

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

¼ cup almond milk

½ cup shredded carrots 

¼ cup toasted almonds

¼ cup honey


  1. Mash bananas thoroughly. Mix bananas, eggs, flour, baking soda, salt and milk, beating until you have a smooth mixture. Add shredded carrots. Warm a non-stick pan over medium heat, adding ½ t canola oil or cooking spray to the pan, ensuring it is evenly coated.
  2. Pour ¼ cup of batter into the pan, and cook until it begins to bubble. Flip over and heat until cooked through. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.
  3. Serve warm and garnish with toasted almonds and a bit of honey.

Nutrition facts per serving: 265 calories, 8 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 108 mg cholesterol, 330 mg sodium, 46 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 8 g protein

Disclosure: I received a $50 Stop & Shop gift card to purchase ingredients to test the recipes.


Move Over Zumba, BollyX on the Scene!

Now I say that with complete loyalty to Zumba, as I've been teaching it for more than four years and I don't see the Zumba Fitness empire going anywhere. But there's always new dance fitness trends, and I've been truly impressed following the lightening-speed growth of BollyX, a cardio dance class inspired by Indian Bollywood films and music. How convenient that FitMamaEats contributor, Fen Tung, is one of the lead certified BollyX instructors in the Boston area and is attracting a growing number of devotees! Get a sneak peek below of the BollyX promo video (featuring Fen and her husband David in the background) and then check out my interview with Fen as she describes this exciting new class.

Q: What is BollyX and what kind of workout is it? 

A: BollyX is a cardio dance fitness class set to the best beats of Bollywood. You’ll not only get your heart rate up in this class, but you’ll also tone your muscles while doing some Bhangra.

Q: What attracted you to become an instructor when you were already a Zumba instructor?

A: I actually started taking Bollywood/Bhangra instructional dance lessons in 2010 before I became a licensed Zumba instructor in April 2011. I instantly fell in love with Bollywood/South Asian music back in 2010 and when teaching Zumba, I always had at least one Bollywood song in my playlist. I first heard about BollyX in June 2013 when I took a demo class. The music and choreography were amazing! I realized how little I knew about the different styles of South Asian dance and was eager to learn more. More education never hurt anyone—I feel that Zumba and BollyX are similar in terms of energy and fun, but different in terms of technique and music. It gives me the variety I need to avoid burning out and keeps things new and refreshing!

Fen, David, and other regional BollyX instructors. Photo credit: BollyX

Q: What makes BollyX different than Zumba?

A: Besides the obvious (music and dance styles), BollyX’s class format ends with a “performance” song so that each person can let his/her inner “Bollywood star” come out! Bollywood is all about personality and performance. It’s a chance for people to really let loose. This is the section that people really look forward to in each class and is not a part of a Zumba class.

Q: Can a beginner brand new to exercise take this class safely? How do you satisfy a class of participants with mixed fitness levels?

A: The BollyX class cycles between higher intensity and lower intensity dance sequences. As an instructor, I always let the class know they can modify the dance moves to keep it low impact for safety or to suit their needs/fitness levels—it’s important to listen to your body. This class is for everyone including those new to exercise. The more advanced exercise enthusiast gets a great workout by taking the higher intensity options. There is a bit of a learning curve, as is the case for all group exercise classes, but BollyX is not about dancing perfectly; it's about enjoying the music and appreciating how your body wants to move to that music. There are plenty of people coming to take BollyX with no dance experience having a great time and getting a great workout. We keep the same songs in the playlist for 4-6 weeks so the participants can memorize the choreography and feel successful “performing” the songs. The playlist differs by 1-2 songs each week so the music and dancing stays fresh and exciting.

Q: Where are you now teaching the class and are there other classes in the Boston area?

A: To find the latest class schedule and to register for classes in the Boston/Cambridge area, click here. I currently teach at the Dance Complex in Cambridge every other Monday night, and there is also a Thursday night class. Additional classes are offered at iDance in Burlington, Harvard University and VIM Fitness. More classes will be showing up at various gyms but currently there aren’t enough certified instructors to fill the demands. If anyone is interested in teaching BollyX, there are certification courses offered every few months.

Fen leading an energetic group at the Dance Complex in Cambridge, MA. Photo credit: Style-Wire

Q: How do you become a certified instructor and do you need to obtain continuing credits every year? 

A: Click here for complete info on trainings. BollyX recommends but does not require an existing group fitness certification such as AFAA. You don't need dance or fitness experience but it does help. Unlike Zumba, there is a practical exam given after the training. To maintain your BollyX certification you can either join the Instructor Portal for continuing education for a quarterly fee (the certification remains valid as long as you are enrolled in the Portal), or if you choose not to enroll in the Portal you can retake another BollyX Certification course within a year of your original training date. You will receive 6.5 AFAA CEU’s after taking the BollyX Certification Course.


Book Review: The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution

As much as we stress, fret, and fight it, picky eaters are here to stay. Why? Because picky eating is a normal behavior, says author Elizabeth Pantley of the best-selling No-Cry Solution series. I wish I'd known that when Jake was first entering this phase. As a nutritionist, I successfully convince clients to try fruits, vegetables, and other healthful foods they normally wouldn't go near, so why not my own son? It's been humbling. But I've eased up on his eating, especially after realizing that he has consistently grown almost 3 inches each year and is at an ideal height and weight for his age. He has tons of energy and easily fights off colds that travel through his classmates. This reassurance is echoed throughout Pantley's book.

First, I do want to acknowledge that Ms. Pantley very kindly sent me a copy of The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution to consider writing a review when it debuted in 2011. I happily agreed after thumbing through and finding it to be an excellent resource, but I never did...until now. The truth is that book reviews intimidate me because I'm a very slow reader, and when scanning Pantley's chapters I was so impressed with all the useful information on every page that I felt overwhelmed with how I could summarize it all into a concise book review. Anyway, I'm motivated now because the topic is such an ongoing problem for many parents, and it's one of the top reasons I counsel kids under the age of 10. 

Before writing the book, Pantley enlisted the help of 172 people, or test parents, and their children (294 to be exact!) from all over the world to study picky eating behavior and what advice worked and didn't work.

Chapter 1 provides checklists of what is normal picky eating behavior versus an immediate health concern. For example, though your child may eat only a small selection of the same foods every day, does she/he have a lot of energy, sleep well, and fall into a normal height and weight range at doctor visits? The chapter also reviews why kids are picky, with reasons ranging from genetics (the number of sweet and sour taste buds you are born with) to protective instincts (avoiding sour or bitter flavors as found in poisonous plants and spoiled foods) to anatomy (about one-quarter of young children are "supertasters" with an unusually high number of taste buds) to control (no need to explain this one!). Pantley discusses several food facts, of which I found the nutrition information to be completely sound, on why it is important to focus on produce and whole grains while limiting sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. 

Chapter 2 is my favorite section discussing four key points: attitude, environment, amounts, and rules. These cover the importance of parents' attitudes toward food and mealtimes, the types of foods available in the family kitchen, proper portion sizes and amounts from each food group for different ages (their actual needs are probably less than you think), and which food "rules" are ok to bend and which are not. 

Chapter 3 is full of practical food tips, such as how to improve the favorite boxed macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and how to sneak mashed vegetables, ground flax, whole grains, tofu and other ingredients into common recipes. There is also an extensive Q&A section and an abundance of ideas and creative tactics to try.

Chapter 4 is a compilation of favorite nutritious recipes by authors of children's cookbooks.

This book is a must-have for any new parent. Whether you're tearing your hair out after mealtimes or just trying to get your child to eat one new vegetable a month, this is a highly informative read about childhood eating behaviors and how to foster at an early age a healthy attitude towards food that will stick with them for life.

Want even more guidance? Check out a free workshop this Tuesday at Bright Horizons in Wellesley Get Smart on Raising Healthy Eaters.