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  • by Kara Kimbrough

Eating Lighter Doesn't Equate to the "D Word"


With the advent of Daylight Savings Time, spring and its warm temperatures are never far behind. If you’re like me, it’s time to cut back on heavy, high-fat winter comfort foods to get ready for lighter spring clothing. Notice I didn't use the D-word or "We’re going on a diet." Instead, let’s substitute the phrase, “We’re going to eat delicious, low-fat meals for energy, to improve our health, and to look and feel better.”

One of the first places I look when searching for recipes in the latter category is the American Heart Association. It’s a trusted organization for health information and recipes, both of which have been tested by medical professionals. As a result of writing about them, I’ve accumulated a number of their cookbooks. Additionally, a wealth of healthy and delicious recipes are listed on their website, www.aha.org. Each one contains a full nutritional breakdown as well as the cost per serving.

One of my favorite AHA cookbooks is a small booklet entitled 46 Healthy Soul Food Recipes. With recipes for everything from oven-fried okra to seafood gumbo and jambalaya to a healthy take on my favorite pound cake, it’s one I refer to often.

Always a fan of chicken spaghetti, it lost its luster when I realized how much sodium, fat, and calories were in one serving. I was excited to find a healthier version in the Soul Food booklet with only four grams of saturated fat and 371 calories. Best of all, it was hard to tell the difference between mine and the healthier dish.

I revised the recipe a little to include my favorite ingredients and left out mushrooms and whole wheat pasta. Therefore, the nutritional info may be a little different. However, feel free to add them if you’d like.

To make my version, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and boil eight ounces of Ronzoni Smart Taste pasta. Drain and set it aside. Boil four boneless, skinless chicken breasts, reserve cooking water, chop chicken into thick pieces; set aside.

In an extra large skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and lightly brown a thinly sliced green bell pepper and a chopped medium onion. Next, add 1 (14.5-ounce) can of no-salt added diced tomatoes and the liquid; 1 (10.75-ounce) can of low-fat, reduced-sodium cream of chicken soup; cup of the chicken cooking water; cup of reduced-fat shredded Cheddar cheese and half a cup grated Parmesan cheese. Stir together over medium heat until cheese is melted.

Last, stir in chopped chicken and season the mixture with Mrs. Dash and ground black pepper to taste. Lightly spray a 13-by-9 inch baking dish with cooking spray and add chicken mixture, followed by cooked pasta. Stir everything together, top with a little more grated Parmesan if desired and bake, covered, for 20 minutes, then uncovered for 10 minutes until mixture is warmed through and lightly browned on top.

This version is so healthy you can even have dessert. A friend’s discussion about thick and rich homemade banana pudding topped with meringue at a buffet line occupied my mind all week. Filled with a thick custard and a four-inch meringue crown, it was likely packed with more fat and calories than we need in a week.

However, there’s no reason we shouldn’t enjoy these old-fashioned delicacies without wreaking our healthy eating (not the D word) plans.

Side note: many supermarkets are replacing reduced-fat and low-fat products to make room for their store brands. If this has happened at your store, talk to the manager or fill out an online request. Most companies will take note, especially with the growing use of online shopping.

My version of healthy-but-good banana pudding isn’t from the AHA, but I think they’d approve. With over 30% less calories and am amazing 90% reduction in saturated fat, you can treat yourself to more than one helping.

Go Bananas Guilt-Free Banana Pudding

3 cups fat-free milk

2 (4 serving size) boxes banana cream instant pudding and pie filling mix

4 (6-ounce) containers vanilla yogurt (use banana flavor if you can find it)

1 (16-ounce) container fat-free frozen whipped topping, thawed

48 reduced-fat (use regular if you can’t find them) vanilla wafer cookies

6 small bananas, sliced

In large bowl, beat milk and pudding mix with electric mixer on medium speed until well mixed; beat in yogurt. Fold in half of whipped topping; reserve remainder.

Place 24 vanilla wafers in a single layer in ungreased 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Spoon half of the pudding mixture over wafers. Place sliced bananas over pudding mixture. Spoon remaining pudding mixture over bananas. With a spatula, cover pudding mixture with a layer of remaining whipped topping. Arrange remaining 24 vanilla wafers over top or crush them to make a crumb topping.

Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours but no longer than 8 hours.


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