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Falling Into Healthy Habits 

An old standby gets a nutritious update

Whole wheat mac and cheese
  • Whole wheat mac and cheese

As long summer evenings shorten and mid-day heat is balanced by a crisp chill at night, it’s all too clear the season is changing. As Sandi and Danny sang it so well in Grease… “Ah, ah, those summer nights…”

With the passing of summer, it’s important not to let our healthy eating habits fall away like brightly colored leaves. Too easily, fresh fruits and vegetables are crowded out by cold-weather comfort foods, often high in fat. Summer’s lighter fare and frequent, pleasant outdoor exercise is replaced by hanging around in the kitchen, snacking and over-consuming.

Here are some ideas for a healthy game plan to carry you through the fall.

Find a friend to exercise with once a week. Walk, bike or take an exercise class together. The consistency of once a week might spill over into more. If full-time work dictates your schedule, then use a lunch break for exercise time. My husband started doing this last spring and was amazed how much better he felt at work saying, “I knew I was hooked when I started to look forward to my runs at lunch time. I also found that lunch conversations with co-workers migrated towards work-talk, and my runs broke up the mental train.”

Instead of snacking in front of the TV, read. Summer and reading go together — perhaps joining a book club can keep that seasonal flame alive in the fall. Shortened days offer more evenings to curl up in an afghan and read a great mystery. If you can’t sit still, the public libraries are loaded with free books on tape. I am on my third year of having a book on tape consistently in my car. Commuting with kids, traveling to a business meeting or even getting stuck in traffic takes on a new purpose when I get hooked on a good story. And having something to engage you while you’re driving may help prevent snacking on high-calorie foods and drinks during this time.

Planning healthy meals really becomes a struggle if tight schedules mean you have to eat on the run. Almost all foods can be part of a healthy diet, but understanding the balancing act can take some practice. Here especially, knowledge breeds freedom. Salad bars offer a variety of freshly cut vegetables, and usually a cream-based soup. Fill the soup bowl with fresh veggies and pour the clam chowder or corn chowder over the top. Lunch is now loaded with fiber, and the often very yummy cream soup is not denied. Cream-sauced meat dishes can be just as easily adapted. Try a higher-fat dish like Chicken Divan drizzled over a pile of brown rice, steamed broccoli, red peppers and snap peas.

Then there are the Foods That Are Hard To Say No To — foods that call your name in the middle of the night; foods that you can’t get out of your head no matter how much you eat. Sorry, but those should simply stay out of the house. Save the high-fat ice cream for a special outing. Enjoy one serving and get the heck out of Dodge! I have a soft spot for apple fritters and allow one of them in my diet only after a long walk or bike ride. Let me repeat: I purchase just one, and I get far away from the store before I enjoy it.

Here’s a family favorite that one of my friends makes when the weather turns cooler. She’s found that preparing a double batch of this Whole-Wheate Mac and Cheese and freezing several casserole dishes allows her more time to take a walk with a friend, or read her new novel. While macaroni and cheese is often considered “off limits,” the nutrition facts in this version reveal it can be a healthy choice. Enjoy it as a side dish, or as an entrée accompanied by a salad and fruit for dessert.

Whole-Wheat Mac and Cheese

3/4 cup low-fat milk
1 egg, beaten
16 oz. cottage cheese, low-fat
1/4 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup gruyere cheese
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1 dash salt and black pepper, to taste
1 lb. whole-wheat elbow macaroni, cooked
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon breadcrumbs, fine, dry

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir the first eight ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and mix well. Pour the mixture into a larger bowl with cooked macaroni, and mix well. Place into a 2-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake the casserole at 350 degrees 15-20 minutes, until nice and bubbly.

Nutrition Facts: 450 calories, 10g fat, 28g protein, 62g carbohydrates, 4.5g fiber

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