It’s Pumpkin Time!

This past week I have been completing various projects with multiple people at WVU Dining Services.  I assisted with a safety and sanitation audit in the dining facility and helped with a catering event at the WVU President’s house and so much more.  The project I decided to share with you all this week is a brief topic I covered for a series called “Nutrition Nuggets” that dining serves puts out for WVU students and staff a few times a month.


Nutrition Nuggets - It's Pumpkin TimeAlso, in favor of fall traditions I have been searching for a HEALTHY pumpkin flavored drink to make and I think I finally found one! Now, I have yet to have a chance to get to the store to purchase pumpkin puree (or milk…) so I have yet to try it. Once I do, I will be sure to share my thoughts but if you beat me to it please share your comments (good or bad!). Original recipe can be found here.

Pumpkin Spice Smoothie

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1 banana

2 scoops vanilla chai protein powder

(or try 1 scoop chai tea mix and 1 scoop vanilla protein powder instead!)

1 cup of milk


Directions: Blend all ingredients together until desired consistency is reached!


New Year, New Diet? – Not Again!

With the New Year well under way, fad diets and weight loss pills are hot items! Millions of people are making New Year’s resolutions from everything to losing weight, saving money, spending more time with family and everything in between.



With large Thanksgiving meals, leftovers, holiday desserts and cookies for Santa, it should not be surprising to find that the last months of the year can lead to most weight gain all year. According to Yvonne Ortega, a registered dietitian and professor at Santa Monica College, Americans tend to gain anywhere between nine and 12 pounds during the holiday season! Holiday meals can account for 3,000 – 5,000 calories not including those leftovers we savor the following week. (Check out my previous post to see how to eliminate some of the calories without sacrificing any of the necessities!)


So, what is the best way to combat the extra pounds that continue to accumulate after all these years? Is it the latest weight-loss pill that claims to “clinically proven” or the newest “cleansing” diet? The answer is NO! As humans, we naturally look for the quickest and easiest way to lose weight. The truth is that there is no overnight solution. The weight took time to accumulate and it will take time to get rid of.


Those weight loss pills on TV are not even regulated by the FDA and cannot be proven safe or even effective! The ever-popular cleansing diets that involve only drinking lemon juice, vinegar, or even smoothies are really just starvation diets in disguise. Do you even really know what you are trying to cleanse? Those diets eliminate entire food groups and not sustainable. As soon as the “cleanse” ends the pounds will return and you will lucky if you don’t end up gaining more than you lost in the first place.


With so much of today’s society’s social events being centered around food and alcohol, losing weight can be a challenge. The secret to weight loss that no one wants to here is long-term, sustainable, healthy living. This involves making every day, healthy choices such as these:

  1. Choose grilled or boiled meats and vegetables instead of breaded and fried
  2. Limit portion sizes
  3. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables at every meal
  4. Reduce or eliminate your intake of sugary drinks like soda and juice and drink more water or unsweetened tea
  5. Limit intake of cream based sauces and soups and chose vegetable or broth based soups


Physical activity is also a key component of a healthy lifestyle. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get to the gym or devote an entire hour directly to exercise everyday – there are other ways to increase your energy expenditure. The key to exercise is to find something that you actually enjoy doing. If you hate running you probably won’t last long if you force yourself and the excuses to not work out will be easy to find. Think outside the box. Have you tried Zumba, kickboxing, spinning class, taking walks, hiking, the opportunities are endless. If you aren’t used to exercising start by taking small steps like taking the stairs, not using the remote, walking the dogs, doing calf raises while doing the dishes. You may be surprised by how all the little things can add up!


So please, don’t fall for the latest fad diet and together let’s make it our New Year’s resolution to NOT diet but instead let’s work to make daily healthy choices that will lead to a sustainable, healthy, and enjoyable life.

My First Thanksgiving Meal – “Healthified”

This is the one holiday of the year dedicated to consuming ridiculous amounts of delicious foods and giving thanks while spending time with family. This was the first Thanksgiving in my entire life I was not able to spend it with my family in Colorado. Since I am going home for four weeks in less than a month and I did just see my parents less than a month ago, I was able to manage here in West Virginia! I was lucky enough to have very welcoming family to spend this holiday with, thanks to Shannon Ackerman and her wonderful family, here in Morgantown. Before Kyle and I made plans to spend Thanksgiving at the Ackerman’s we had planned to tackle our own meal! Since we had already had a turkey we figured we would go ahead and make the meal we had planned, just a day later. My inspiration for this meal was to make a fantastic meal that doesn’t consists of a few days worth of calories and fat.

Did you know that the average American eats 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat just in that one meal, and closer to 4,500 calories on the entire day of Thanksgiving (source). Just for a frame of reference, Dr. Cedric Bryant, ACE chief exercise physiologist, went on to explain that a person who weighs 160 pounds would have to run at a moderate pace for four hours, swim for five hours, or walk 30 miles to burn off a 3,000 calorie meal. Now, let’s be realistic, not many people do any exercise over the holiday and find them self in a “turkey-induced food coma” on the couch watching football, instead of running a marathon! In all honestly, that is exactly how I spent Thanksgiving this year – watching football and playing effortless board games. In past years, my family and I have participated in the annual 5K Turkey Trot prior to indulging in our Thanksgiving meals and in my defense I did try to find a local 5K this year on Thanksgiving but was unsuccessful. That might be a valid excuse for not running in an organized 5K, but still poor excuse for not getting any exercise, but there is always tomorrow!

In hopes to create a Thanksgiving meal that won’t shock the scales, my goal was to create a meal, without skipping the essentials, for under 1,000 calories. In order to calculate the nutrition facts for my first Thanksgiving meal I inputted all the recipes I used into MyFitnessPal. MyFitnessPal is a website that also has very handy apps for individuals to track their food intake as well as their exercise output. It can be very helpful to those who want to make changes but don’t know where to start – or to calculate nutrition facts! This app allows users to scan the bar codes on food packages, change the serving sizes, search foods, create recipes, save meals, and SO MUCH MORE!

Now, let’s see how I did!

My Thanksgiving Menu:

  • Turkey
  • Gravy
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Rolls
  • Stuffing
  • Carrots
  • Green Beans
  • Salad
  • Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Apple Pie w/ Ice Cream
  • Pumpkin Beer

As you can see, I didn’t skip on any of the essentials. There was still dessert, drinks, gravy, bread, and all of the components that are a part of the classic holiday meal! Now, for the tough part… How was I going to take a 3,000-calorie meal and cut it down to 1,000 calories without sacrificing the basic skeleton of the meal? I started by searching the Internet for recipes that were “healthier” and less calorie dense and came up with a few alternatives. As a note of caution, unless you scan the food yourself make sure to double check the nutrition facts that MyFitnessPal gives you with additional sources because anybody can input those so they could be inaccurate!


Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast – I found this recipe on the Food Network Website. Click here!

  • Serving Size: 3 oz.
  • Calories: 100
  • Fat: 1.5g

My First Time Cooking A Turkey!

The End Product = Success!

Gravy – I just used the “Gravy Bag” that was included with my Butterball Turkey Breast, so there is no “recipe.”

  • Serving Size: 2 tablespoons
  • Calories: 55
  • Fat: 2g

Mashed Potatoes – I made my own recipe!

  • Recipe:
    • Serves: 10 people
    • Serving Size: ½ cup
    • Ingredients:
      • 10 Russet potatoes
      • Water (enough to cover the potatoes in the pan)
      • 1 stick of butter, softened
      • 4 oz. cream cheese
      • Salt (to taste)
      • Pepper (to taste)
  • Directions:
    • Wash the potatoes.
    • Skin (if desired) and chop up into smaller pieces.
    • Place into large pan and add enough water to cover the potatoes.
    • Cover with lid, and bring to a boil.
    • Cook until tender, about 25 minutes.
    • Strain the excess water saving about 1-2 cups.
    • Put the potatoes back into the pan and add the water, butter, cream cheese, salt and pepper.
    • Mash the mixture with an electric beater to reach the desired consistency.
    • Serving Size: ½ cup
    • Calories: 267
    • Fat: 11g

Rolls – No, I did not make these from scratch… I used King’s Hawaiian Savory Butter Rolls (time-saver!)

  • Serving Size: 1 roll
  • Calories: 90
  • Fat: 2.5g

Best Pre-Made Rolls!

Quinoa Stuffing – I do like traditional stuffing and never really have (conveniently, Kyle doesn’t either) so I took this opportunity to find a healthier replacement that I would enjoy. I ran across a recipe for quinoa stuffing that included wild rice, sweet potatoes, onions, cranberries, etc. It looked delicious and turned out wonderful! For the link to this recipe click here! I did make some substitutions based on ingredients that I didn’t have. I did not have any red wine vinegar so I replaced it with white wine and a dash a vinegar. I also added sweet red peppers (1/2 pepper) to add more veggies!

  • Serving Size: ½ cup
  • Calories: 63
  • Fat: 2.0 grams

Cooking the Quinoa

Sweet potatoes, red peppers, onions, and garlic!

Wild Rice, Quinoa, Veggie Mix = Quinoa Stuffing

Cooked Carrots – All I did here is boil baby carrots until they were tender and then they were ready to be served!

  • Serving Size: 8 baby carrots
  • Calories: 30
  • Fat: 0 grams

Green Beans – Now, here is where you could argue that my Thanksgiving meal is “lacking” if you’re a big fan of green bean casserole. I tend to not mind skipping the green bean casserole, especially when I am doing all of the cooking!. So, in efforts to increase the vegetable content of the meal I took the easy (and healthier) way out but just using plain green beans. All I had was Del Monte Canned Whole Green Beans. Now, I realize that using canned goods typically means an outrageous amount of sodium and I do prefer using fresh – but again, I used what I had available. In order to reduce the sodium to some degree, I did rinse the canned green beans in water prior to heating them in fresh water.

  • Serving Size: ½ cup
  • Calories: 23
  • Fat: 0 grams

Spinach Salad w/ Pear, Raspberries, Feta, Walnuts, and Cranberries – So good! I love spinach salads and tried to change things up for the holiday from my usual (strawberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges, feta, almonds and cranberries). I did not get this recipe from any specific source, I just used what I had on hand! I top these salads with a Kraft Lite Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing. Salads (without creamy dressings) are a great way to begin a meal! It helps fill you up on nutrient-dense, low-calorie, fiber-rich foods to help you feel satiety sooner and hopefully consume less calories!

  • Serving Size: 1 cup
  • Calories: 109
  • Fat: 5g

Spinach, Pear, Raspberries, Feta and Walnuts!

Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms – I found this recipe here! I only made a few slight adjustments to decrease the fat and calories and enhance the flavor! Instead of sweet Italian sausage, I used SPICY! I reduced the amount of olive oil from 5 to only 2 tablespoons, and they were still slightly oily so that was definitely a good decision! Since this was the first time I made this recipe I left the rest of it alone! They turned out wonderful! Although, I will be the first to admit – these were pretty high in calories and fat (BUT SO GOOD).

  • Serving Size: 2 mushrooms
  • Calories: 217
  • Fat: 17.6g

The picture does NOT do them justice!

Apple Pie Baked in the Apple – I found this recipe here! Since Kyle does not like pie and is perfectly happy with chocolate chip cookies I did not want to make a huge pie just for my self. I instantly fell in love with the idea of baking individual pies inside of apples the moment I saw it! Plus, less crust = less calories and fat! I didn’t make any changes to the original recipe.

  • Serving Size: 1 apple (full of pie)
  • Calories: 288
  • Fat: 9g

Mini Pies in an Apple!

Ice Cream – I am a firm believer that you cannot have pie without ice cream (or frozen yogurt). I ended up purchasing Edy’s Slow Churned Vanilla Ice Cream because I knew that I would be getting close (if I had not already gone over) that 1,000 calorie goal and this is the healthiest (in terms of fat and calories) ice cream on the market!

  • Serving Size: ½ cup
  • Calories: 100
  • Fat: 3.5g

Best Combination Ever!

Pumpkin Beer – I had never tried a pumpkin flavored beer and took the holiday as the perfect opportunity to try it! I chose to try to Shock Top’s Pumpkin Wheat because Shock Top Belgian Wheat (with an orange slice, of course!) is my favorite beer. I have never been big on the flavor of pumpkin but much to my surprised I really enjoyed it! I am interested in trying other brands of pumpkin beers to compare, but overall I was impressed! Unfortunately, beer does with calories but hey, it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make!

  • Serving Size: 12 fl. oz.
  • Calories: 168
  • Fat: 0g

Pumpkin and Shock Top = YUM!

Now, for the totals… Dun… Dun…Dun…

My Entire Thanksgiving Meal

Total Calories: 1,510

Total Fat: 54.1g (32% of total calorie intake)

My Main Course

So, as you can see my meal did not quite make the cut of 1,000 calories – but overall I am not upset about it. It was delicious and it was Thanksgiving J Now, there are definitely changes that could have been made fairly easily to make that cut!

I could have substituted the stuffed mushrooms (217 calories) with grilled or steamed mushrooms to save nearly 200 calories! On the other hand, I could have just eaten one stuffed mushroom and made adjustments elsewhere because they were that good! I could have split my apple pie dessert in half since they turned out much larger than anticipated! I could have saved an additional 200 calories by only eating half of the apple pie and ice cream. I could have eliminated the feta cheese from my salad and put less butter and cream cheese in the mashed potatoes to reduced the remaining 100 extra calories.

Overall I would say that my meal was still an improvement from the average 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat! My meal was still half the average calorie consumption and less than one fourth of the amount of average fat intake!

I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday!