Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya: A Mardi Gras Tradition

In my 30 years, I think I have only missed 3 Mardi Gras celebrations. Born and raised in New Orleans, my family and I experienced Mardi Gras on many different levels. We attended other Mardi Gras parties and in recent year have hosted our own 3 day Mardi Gras open house celebration. Being that my family owns a property directly on the most popular parade route, Saint Charles Avenue, we tend to have many visitors throughout the Mardi Gras weekend. My dad loves planning his Mardi Gras menu, which always includes Jambalaya on Fat Tuesday. Sunday’s menu usually gets changed a bit from year to year but two things are certain: Red Beans ‘n’ Rice on Monday and Jambalaya on Tuesday. It would not be Mardi Gras without my dad making two gigantic casserole dishes of Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya.

The smells of great New
Orleans cooks making their traditional recipes seeps into the air along the parade route. Fat Tuesday starts early no matter how late you stayed up the previous night. My dad would already be cooking when our bleary-eyed selves made our way down to Jackson and St. Charles Avenues to see Zulu with Bloody Marys in hand. In my college days, I recall a time or two when some friends and I did the “all-nighter” (not the studying kind) ending up in Igor’s bar, known for their yummy Bloody Mary’s right on the Zulu route. That way we were there before the crowds and staked out the ultimate parade-viewing positions. More recently, that kind of dedication and lack of sleep is out of the question. Instead, I opt for sleep and an early walk with coffee in hand to catch the parade on Mardi Gras day, holding off on those Bloody Marys until around 10 or 11 am.

After the excitement of Zulu, we would head back to our home base to refresh and energize with some yummy food and a refill of coffee or a cocktail before watching the next parade of the
day, Rex. By now, my dad would be pulling the jambalaya casserole dishes from the oven and asking me to taste test. Throughout the years of watching my dad making his version of this traditional New Orleans recipe, I have developed a version of my own. Since moving to Philadelphia in 2002, my husband and I go to Mardi Gras every other year as well as many other New Orleans trips at other times of the year. Even though we visit fairly often, I often cook my favorite New Orleans meals in my Philadelphia kitchen. This year is sadly our off year from Mardi Gras, which is most unfortunate being that my New Orleans Saints will be attending the Superbowl for the first time ever just one week before Mardi Gras weekend. Since I cannot be there, I will treat my Philadelphia friends to a taste of New Orleans cuisine during my Superbowl gathering. Bring some New Orleans flavor to your Superbowl or Mardi Gras parties with this Jambalaya recipe to impress your guests. I hope that you will love it as much as my family and friends do.

Lizzy M.’s Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya

2 Cups chopped yellow
2 Cups chopped green or red bell pepper
2 Cups chopped celery

1 Cup chopped parsley
1 Cup chopped green o
1/2 Cup chop
ped celery tops
3-4 Minced or grated garlic cloves

1-1/2 Cups chicken stock

2 Cups beef stock

2 cans diced tomatoes
1 Large boneless skinless chicken breast

1 Package sliced Andouille, Kielbasa or smoked sausage (You could also do a combination of two sausages.)

2 Cups uncooked long grain white rice

2 Tbsp thyme

2 Tbsp chili powde
1 Tbsp Paprika

1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning or Tony’s Chachere

1 Tsp crushed red pepper

1 Tsp allspice

1/2 Tsp cayenne pepper

4 Dried bay leaves

4-5 pads (slices) butter

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for sautéing

Tabasco to taste

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sta
rt by prepping the holy trinity. Chop 2-3 yellow onions, 1-2 green or red bell peppers, and 3-4 celery stalks. How much you use will depend upon the size of your vegetables. The goal is to make about 2 cups of each vegetable. Chop one cup of parsley and one cup of green onions and set aside. Also, make sure to save the leafy tops of the celery stalks. Chop the celery tops and set aside as well.

In a small sauce or stockpot, heat 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock and 2 cups of beef stock. Use bouillon cubes, broth or stock-whatever you have. To prepare the chicken, season one large boneless chicken breast with salt, pepper, garlic, and Cajun seasoning or Tony’s Chachere. Heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Place the seasoned side of the chicken down in the skillet. At this time, season the other side and cover skillet. Cook for about 4 minutes or until slightly browned. Flip the chicken and cook the other side another 4 minutes. Don't worry if it is not fully cooked because it will conti
nue to cook in the oven. Turn the heat off and let the chicken sit in the covered pan until it has cooled.

While waiting for the chicken to cool down, heat a large skillet or pot and lightly coat the surface with extra virgin olive oil. Add a teaspoon of crushed red pepper into the oil as it heats. Once heated, add the celery. Stir to coat the celery with the oil. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper. In this dish, you should season as you go to make sure every layer has plenty of flavor. Next add the yellow onions and pepper. Keep the heat on high and mix well.

Now it is time to season for real! Add 2 tablespoons of thyme and chili powder, 1 of tablespoon paprika and Cajun seasoning, 1 teaspoon allspice and cayenne pepper (fresh or ground), 3-4 dried bay leaves, and a few dashes of Tabasco. Mix the spices well into the trinity mixture and cook down for about 5-7 minutes. Add 3-4 cloves of minced or grated g
arlic and lower heat. Cook for another minute and turn off heat. Pour the vegetable mixture into a large, deep casserole dish.

Next, slice one package of Andouille, Kielbasa or smoked sausage into disc or half moon sizes. Reheat the now empty skillet from the vegetables on medium-high heat and then add the sausage. Sprinkle a dash of Cajun seasoning and a few dashes of Tabasco into the cooking sausage. Let the sausage cook for about 5-7 minutes and then add into the casserole dish.

Remove the chicken br
east from the covered skillet and dice. Add any remaining liquids from the chicken skillet into the casserole dish as well as the diced chicken. At this time, add 2 cans of diced tomatoes, and the heated chicken/beef stock. Carefully mix all the ingredients in the casserole dish.

Taste the mixture at this time to determine if more spices are needed. I always add a pinch more of every spice at this time but it depends on how spicy you like it. Add a half of the chopped portion of both the parsley and green onions and all of the celery tops. Finally, add 2 cups of uncooked long grain white rice and mix well, so the rice is evenly distributed throughout the dish. Add 5 pads of butter on top of the casserole. Tightly cover with aluminum foil and cook in preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. Check the casserole half way through cooking time and stir well. The cooki
ng time may vary depending upon your oven, so don’t be afraid to check on it. Once the rice is done, the Jambalaya is good and ready.

Serve your Jamb
alaya hot from the oven and garnish with chopped green onion. Make sure the hot sauce is on the table, so your guests can add some more heat if they like. Cajun cooking can be a bit spicy, but not so spicy that you can’t taste everything else. I find that restaurants in other cities trying to replicate that Cajun flavor, tend to go much too heavy on the cayenne. New Orleans cooking is about all of the flavors not just the heat. So, keep it light on the strong spices like cayenne, and pull out the hot sauce for those who want to add even more of a kick. Great additions to this main dish include garlic bread or cornbread.

Your guests will love this New Orleans meal while they cheer on the Saints (or the Colts). Whether you are rooting for the New Orleans Saints or for the Colts with their New Orleans born-and-raised quarterback, Peyton Manning, your Superbowl party spread has got to be New Orleans style.

Happy Superbowl Party, Happy Mardi Gras, and Happy Cajun Cooking!


Chicken Tortilla Soup

Nothing satisfies the appetite in the cold winter months more than a spicy, comforting soup. Sometimes in the winter months, my recipe ideas can become sparse. I end up making my go-to standards a bit too much and get to the point where I really want something different. After too many spaghetti dinners and chicken bakes, I was ready to mix things up. Often in the winter, I stop making Mexican dishes except for a few quesadilla dinners, mostly because I tend to associate Mexican dishes with the fresh produce the summer brings. However, I still get those cravings for the delicious Mexican flavors that I love during the winter. The other day with limited ingredients in my kitchen, I realized that the ingredients that I did have would make for a good Mexican dish. With chicken and corn in the freezer as well as a cilantro and roasted red pepper pesto that I made in the summer, these ingredients were screaming to be a part of a spicy meal. A couple of tortillas, a can of crushed tomatoes, and some sour cream were the items that brought the Chicken Tortilla Soup idea into play.

The soup turned out to be quite successful and I know this because my husband, my most honest critic, loved every bite of this spicy, rich soup. As rich as this soup tastes, loaded with vegetables and lean chicken, it is surprisingly healthy. This soup can be as simple or complex as you choose. If you don't have all of the ingredients in my recipe, then don't fret. What really matters is the seasoning. The addition of the cilantro and roasted red pepper pesto was spontaneous. In the summer months with more cilantro than I knew what to do with, I made a pesto out of it to freeze for a later use-not really knowing how I would ever use it. After roasting some red bell peppers, I added the peeled and seeded peppers, garlic, cilantro, fresh lime zest and juice and olive oil to a food processor to make this tasty pesto. Since you may not have this pesto lying around your kitchen, feel free to substitute with fresh cilantro, roasted red bell pepper and the zest and juice of half of a lime.

Lizzy M.'s Chicken Tortilla Soup

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Dash of crushed red pepper
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 cup corn, fresh from the cob or frozen
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
Dash of allspice
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp liquid smoke
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 cups water
8 oz. crushed tomato
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (Use 1 chicken breast for 2 people.)
2 tbsp cilantro and roasted red pepper pesto
Sour Cream
Tortilla Chips


In a large pot, add a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a dash of crushed red pepper over medium to high heat. Once the oil is heated, then add the chopped onion and celery and a dash of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir the vegetables to mix well with the olive oil and saute for 4 minutes. Next, add the corn and saute for another 3-5 minutes. Now it is time for some seasoning. Turn the heat down a bit to medium, and into the pot add the chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, allspice, tomato pasted and garlic. Stir the ingredients well to incorporate, and saute for 3 minutes. Now, that the flavor base is there; it is time to add almost everything else. Next, you want to boost the flavor even more with the addition of the red wine vinegar, liquid smoke, chicken bouillons, water, and crushed tomato. Stir all ingredients well. On a medium to low heat, cover the pot and allow these flavors to cook and marry for 15 minutes.

With your soup simmering, now place a clean and trimmed boneless, skinless chicken breast directly into the soup. Push the chicken down into the soup, so that the liquid is covering the chicken. Cover the pot and cook the chicken for 15 minutes, turning the chicken over once during the cooking time. After 15 minutes, turn the heat off and let the chicken sit in the soup for another 5 minutes. Remove the chicken onto a cutting board at this point. Let the chicken rest for another 3-5 minutes before shredding the meat. Take 2 forks and pull them through the chicken in opposite directions until the chicken is well shredded. You can also use a knife to thinly slice the chicken, whichever you prefer.

Return the shredded chicken to the soup pot and bring back to a low simmer. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste the soup to see if the seasoning is to your liking. If not, then add more here. Also, add in the cilantro and red pepper pesto or substitute with fresh chopped cilantro, chopped roasted red pepper and lime zest and juice. Stir well.

Serve this comforting bowl of soup steaming hot garnished with a dollop of sour cream and tortilla chips. Feel free to also add a pinch of shredded cheddar cheese or some chopped scallions and cilantro right on top. This healthful and affordable meal is perfect anytime whether it be a weeknight, weekend or even for a large gathering. This meal is easy to make for lots of people, so my Chicken Tortilla Soup is sure to be a crowd-pleaser at your Superbowl party or for any festive gathering. Try this recipe today to shake up your winter recipe repertoire.


Camellia Grill: A Legendary New Orleans Diner

Since 1946, Camellia Grill has served diner classics to devoted local customers and tourists on the oak tree-lined streetcar line in New Orleans. Located Uptown on Carrollton Avenue at the riverbend, the large white mini-plantation architecture of this legend stands out with its four bold columns, sweet white picket fence and the contrast of its name in pink neon lights. If you are in town for the NFC Championship game, Mardi Gras or for any reason at all, then hop on the streetcar heading uptown until you hit Carrollton Avenue to check out Camellia Grill. You will surely spot this location immediately by its grand presence or by the line trickling down the street. Don't panic if you see a long line because the Camellia Grill experience is worth the wait. The line moves quickly as the staff is highly experienced in accommodating many diners quickly. Bring your appetite and get in line-you won't regret it. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert-whatever you are in the mood for is waiting.

Walking i
nto this restaurant, unchanged in its 64 years except for its closing after Hurricane Katrina and new ownership since its reopening in 2007, you first notice the energy, excitement and laughter from the waiters and cooks behind the counter. The light pink walls are decorated with framed pictures of camellias. The double-U shaped marble counter top bar and little swivel bar stools accommodates approximately 30 diners at a time. As you take a seat at your bar stool, you are instantly greeted by the waiter of your section of the bar with enthusiasm and humor. These waiters are as thorough as they are entertaining. They make everyone smile, even the most serious or shyest of people will leave Camellia Grill with huge smiles on their faces.

The waiters aren
't the only thing that will make you smile, so will the menu. You can keep it simple with the classic breakfast of one or two eggs any style with your choice of bacon, sausage links or ham and fries. Try a side of grits and toast to complete your full breakfast. If you want to stay full until dinner, go for any of Camellia Grill's gigantic omelettes. There is no shortage of omelette fillings with the choice of cheese, ham, potato and onion, bacon, mushroom with gravy, turkey, chili or sausage. Specialty omelettes include the Western with ham, bell pepper and onion, the Mexican with ground beef, pepper, onion, and cheese topped with salsa and jalapeno, the Manhattan with corned beef, potato, onion and cheese or the Chef's Special with turkey, bacon, ham, potato, onion and cheese. If you have more of a sweet tooth, then the waffles have your name on it. Thin and crispy-try the Pecan Waffles for a real Southern treat.

Moving on to lun
ch, although this item can be eaten any time of the day or night, is Camellia Grill's Cheeseburger, by far my favorite item on this menu. Simple but delicious, a Camellia burger is perfection with a thin large all-beef patty topped with tons of melted cheddar cheese dressed with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and fried onions all stuffed between a toasted buttered bun. It doesn't get much better than that except if you add a side of Camellia's crispy shoe string French fries and a Vanilla double scoop Freeze. You could also make it better by adding a fried egg right on top of the burger-the perfect compromise for combining breakfast and lunch. There are only two New Orleans establishments that I will send out-of-towners to for the best burger in New Orleans. One is Camellia Grill and the other place-well you just have to keep reading my blog to find that one out. Camellia's burger will stick to you all day long keeping your energy up to gallivant through the town, catch some Mardi Gras parades, and cheer for the Saints!

If you want to sampl
e something a bit
ifferent, then try the Red Beans and Rice with a Hamburger Patty and Toast. You can get it without the burger patty but why would you? There are also cold and hot sandwiches aplenty on this menu to take care of any deli sandwich cr
avings you may have. Cold sandwiches include pretty much any deli item you might like-baked ham and cheese, double decker ham and cheese, sliced turkey, tuna fish, chicken salad, corned beef or roast beef all with what? You got it-lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. New Orleans folks love mayonnaise-that's what makes the sandwich! For a hot sandwich, try a grilled cheese with bacon, a classic BLT, a hot dog with chili, or hot sausage on a bun with of course lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. If you want even more character with your deli sandwich then try the Mardi Gras, turkey, bacon, lettuce, corned beef, thousand island dressing on Rye bread or a Word Special, a double hot sausage on a special roll with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.

Vegetarians are welcome but they might be limited to lettuce and tomatoes, the Vegetable Omelette, French Fries, and dessert-I could make a meal out of that-no problem! The dessert menu sticks to cheesecake, pies and ice cream. Pecan pie, chocolate pecan pie, apple pie, and cream pies round out the pie selection. Try Camellia's version of a milkshake, a Freeze, in flavors varying fr
om chocolate, vanilla, and coffee to orange, cherry and chocolate cherry. Camellia Grill is not the place for dieters and light eaters, so leave your diet restrictions at the door and indulge. This is a place for a hangover breakfast, a lunch that will keep you full all day, or a late night meal after a long night of parading.

Go to Camellia Grill today! Take your appetite and your friends for a classic New Orleans diner experience.

Camellia Grill
626 South Carrollton Avenue
New Orleans, LA


The Camellia Grill


Gnocchi Quattro Formaggio: A Taste of Florence

In 2006, I had the honor of being invited to work for NBC at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. This opportunity was beyond anything that has ever happened in my career. Being able to experience working for the Olympic Games television programming and being able to do this in Italy was a dream come true. This month long trip kept my husband (fiancé at the time) and I apart, however he booked a flight to meet me in Italy once the games were over-how romantic!

I will never forget my excitement traveling on the train from Torino to Milan to meet my fiancé. I got to the hotel first, and he met me there shortly after to begin our Italian “pre-wedding moon”. After exploring Milan, we traveled to Venice and Florence, with Florence being our most favorite city of the three. While in Florence, there were so many foods and dishes that I could write about, but I have to focus on one memorable dish. My sister-in-law, who had recently traveled throughout Europe, gave us a list of restaurant suggestions in Italy, one of which was in Florence. On one of our last days in Florence, one of the first sunny, clear days of March after many rainy, gray days, we decided to give it a go.

It was March 6th, and I had been in Italy for well over a month by then, and our time in Italy was coming to an end. On that sunny but cold day, we headed out looking for a pasticceria for coffee and breakfast but never really found what we were looking for, so we settled for an average place. With a croissant and café Americano for me and a doughnut and cappuccino for Matt, we headed to Ponte Vecchio, a famous old bridge over the River Arno. Across the river, the Tuscan hills and gardens were breathtaking. While in the area, we checked out the Science Museum, which was filled with ancient maps, thermometers and medical instruments. We walked through the Palazzo de Medici and The Medici House, the quarters of Duke Cosimo, his royal family and court. After much sightseeing, our rumbling stomachs were in need of a good meal. We opted for one of my sister-in-law’s best suggestions, Osteria Santo Spirito located across the Ponte Vecchio in the Piazza Santo Spirito.

We easily found this little gem of a restaurant. Osteria Santo Spirito had an artsy, offbeat vibe, which we loved. After sitting at the red painted table, we were served a basket of hot baked bread with an olive tapaenade. We ordered an appetizer of these little hot ham bites. I can’t remember the Italian name for this dish, so I refer to it as ham bites although it was much more elegant than that sounds. Balls of mozzarella wrapped in a smoky ham were baked at a high temperature, and served over a bed of lettuce and tomato. The ham was crispy on the outside and the cheese was oozing onto the plate. After eating those little bites of heaven, we moved on to our entrées. Matt ordered a Rigatoni pasta dish with ricotta and a red sauce, and I ordered, as per my sister-in-law’s recommendation, the Gnocchi. The gnocchi was cooked and baked in a cast iron dish with 4 different cheeses and truffle oil. Served sizzling hot, the gnocchi and cheeses were golden brown on top. Once cooled down a bit, I was able to safely take a bite of one of the most divine dishes I ate while being in Italy for over a month. The creamy texture of those pillows of soft homemade gnocchi, and divinity of the flavor of cheese mixed with truffle oil created an unforgettable palate experience, an experience so delightful that I often spoke of recreating this dish sometime at home.

I finally attempted my own version of Gnocchi Quattro Formaggio. I regret to inform you that it is not even in the same realm of the meal I had Florence but that is a lot to live up to. While it was not the same, the gnocchi I created was still delicious in its own, simpler American way.

Gnocchi Quattro Formaggio

1 16 oz. Package of fresh or frozen gnocchi (If you want a challenge and have the time, then try making your own gnocchi.)

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion, grated

2 garlic cloves, grated

1 tbsp flour

2 cups cream or milk, heated

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano (freshly grated)

1/2 cup Asiago cheese (freshly grated)

1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella

1/2 cup shredded Fontina cheese


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large oven-safe saucepan, heat up the extra virgin olive oil over medium to high heat. With a micro plane or grater, grate 1/2 of a medium onion into the oil. Turn the heat down and sauté the onion for about 2 minutes. Add a dash of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grate in the garlic cloves and sauté for another minute. Next sprinkle in the flour and

incorporate well with the oil and onion with a whisk or wooden spoon. Let the flour cook for about 2-3 minutes before adding the warm milk or cream. Use 1% or 2% milk if you want to lighten it up otherwise go all the way with whole milk or cream. Whisk the milk into the flour over medium heat until it thickens slightly and all the flour bits are dissolved. Continue whisking and add the white wine. Simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes, stirring


In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, which will take no more than 3 minutes to cook. You will know the gnocchi are done when they float to the top of the pot. Drain well and set aside when done.

Make sure the heat under the milk mixture is on super low. Add all the cheeses into the milk incorporating well with a wooden spoon. The cheeses will melt nice and slow as you stir gently. Once the mixture is smooth and the cheese is melted, then add the gnocchi. Mix well into the sauce and transfer to the oven. Bake the gnocchi in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the top is bubbly and golden brown.

I hope that you can bring a taste of Florence into your home with this Gnocchi recipe. If you have truffles or truffle oil, then add those to this recipe. I think that is what was missing-I know that is what was missing. If you don’t have the truffle oil, then try this recipe, which I think you will find rich, satisfying and delicious. This dish is so elegant and lovely that you will want to make it for a special evening. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and my Gnocchi Quattro Formaggio would make for a perfectly romantic meal with a pan-seared steak or chicken breast with roasted vegetables.

Step out of your comfort zone and try a new creation in your kitchen. When you eat a dish out at a restaurant that you love, try to recreate it yourself at home, so that you can share it with your family. Since I know I won’t be back to Florence for quite some time, at least I know I can make this dish, sending me right back to that beautiful piazza across the Ponte Vecchio in one of my most favorite little cities in the world.

Buon Appetito!


New Year's Diet Resolutions

It's a new year and a new decade. With that, I believe it is time for change. We all have habits that hinder us from being our best selves whether it is watching too much television, drinking, smoking, or lack of exercise, but many of these bad habits involve our diet. Many of us who aren't so lucky to have those skinny genes (pun intended) really have to watch what we eat. From time to time, depending upon what is going on in our lives, we lose track of those calories. Sometimes it is because we are having so much fun in life that we stop counting those dinners out, glasses of wine, and coffee shop mornings. Other times we find ourselves working hard at our jobs or raising a family allowing stress to take over our lives, leaving us feeling as if there is no time for a healthy, home-cooked meal or an hour of exercise.

With a new outlook in mind, we must realize that there is always time for ourselves. We just have to make the time. Maybe we have to wake up earlier and get to bed earlier. Maybe we need to plan out healthy meals at the start of the week, so we are prepared with the right ingredients all week long making for quicker, smarter meal preparations. Whatever it is we need to do to change to make our lives and bodies healthier is worth it. The healthier we are, the more we have to give to our families and friends. Making changes don't always have to be huge, they can be simple, small changes that make a huge difference over time.

Give up soda, fast food and candy. These very bad things should be eaten rarely or never. Never put yourself in a situation where you feel like the only option is to hit the drive-thru. For a full day of errands, arm yourself and family with healthy snacks to turn to like apple slices, bananas, nuts or carrots and peanut butter. Never leave your home without a full reusable water bottle. Quenching your thirst with water will keep you much more energized than gulping down a Coke or other sugar-filled drink.

Cut back on the carbs. I'm not an advocate of cutting out things completely. It is just not realistic. Try cutting back to eating carbohydrates for only one meal a day. I find that planning your meals for the week on a Saturday or Sunday can help tremendously with keeping your carbs and overall calorie intake in check. If you eat oatmeal for breakfast, then try a salad for lunch and turkey meatloaf with vegetables for dinner. If you know you will be eating a pasta dinner, then make sure your breakfast and lunch are free of carbs with eggs or egg whites and veggies in the morning and a bean or vegetable soup for lunch.

Make the switch to fat free dairy. If you are a dairy lover like myself, then you probably keep items like milk, half and half, sour cream, yogurt and cheese in your fridge regularly. Fat free or skim milk, fat free half and half, fat free sour cream and yogurt are all easy switches. Obsessed sugar gram counters will argue that fat free dairy has unnatural ingredients and more sugar, and therefore the fat free dairy is not as healthy as the natural, high fat dairy. While I wish I could have my cake and eat it too, the fat free dairy is a better compromise for an overall healthier diet especially if you are a heavy dairy consumer. Go fat free.

No more fancy "coffee" drinks. I say "coffee" because I don't think those cream, sugar, and syrup saturated coffee shop creations counts as coffee. After all those extras, let's be honest, it is dessert. Never let your coffee shop barista or server add cream and sugar for you because they tend to have a heavy hand. We are perfectly capable of adding milk and sugar to our liking. I guarantee whatever we add will likely be less than what they would add. If you have to add a bunch of sugar and fat to make coffee taste good, then you probably just don't like the taste of coffee. If you do like the taste, then try going back to the classic regular coffee. A cup of regular Joe will give you the jolt you want without weighing you down.

Boo white food! Go brown! Get in your grains by eating whole wheat breads, pastas, rice, and cereals instead of the white stuff. Whole grains offer you more fiber and vitamins and less sugar ultimately filling you up more. Making the switch to whole grain pasta is an easy one. You and your family will hardly notice the change, but your body will.

Plan for your snack attacks. If you are anything like me, then you might experience a snack attack sometime in the late afternoon. This is inevitable for me, so I always make sure to have healthy snacks to turn to like hummus and veggies, edamame, or toasted chickpeas. It is better to give in to the snack, and eat something healthy than to try to ignore it, which can cause you to binge on something unhealthy like chips and sweets. Plan ahead!

Lighten up on the meat. Try eating vegetarian or fish a few nights a week. Cutting out red meat or any kind of meat a few times a week is not only good for your body, but also good for the environment. If you are a big meat-eater, then try switching to chicken and turkey instead of red meat. Anything that you eat with ground beef, can taste just as delicious and satisfying with ground turkey. Just remember to season the turkey well and keep it moist when cooking. Incorporating fish in your diet is one of the best things you can do for your body. Even if it is just one night a week, try a simple, flaky white fish, scallops or salmon. Experiment with some new recipes, and you might realize you are more of a fish and seafood eater than you thought.

Incorporate exercise. Exercise doesn't have to be running a marathon although that's good too. Exercise can be as simple as moving. Just move more. Walk the neighborhood with your family. Walk to work or walk to the store. Just start by moving more within your day. If you are up for it, then challenge yourself to a race. Sign up for an upcoming 5K or 10K in your area. Exercise makes you stronger and gives you a healthier body image and confidence.

Quick Tips. Cut back on the condiments. Use cooking spray instead of butter or oil. If you must use a fat to cook with, then choose extra virgin olive oil. It still has fat and calories but is a much healthier option. Buy lots of fruits and vegetables. If all you have to eat are fruits and vegetables, then you just might eat them. If you shouldn't eat it, don't buy it. Don't keep things in your kitchen that tempt you like ice cream or chips. If you must have these things, then find a healthier alternative like fat free frozen yogurt or Pop chips, popped chips instead of fried or baked. If you eat badly one day, then start out fresh by eating healthy the next day. Don't beat yourself up; just get back on track.

I hope these tips help you start off on the right foot this year. Before my wedding, I was dedicated to eating healthy and using these tips. Since then, I have certainly been slacking and bending the rules more often than not. But with the start of a new decade and the start of my 30th year, I am ready to get back on track. Hope you can join me in kicking off this new decade by kicking out those old habits.

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