Cooking your way to better health in 2016

New Year’s healthy-eating resolutions are often easier made than kept, partially because we’re constantly barraged with an endless parade of potentially intention-defeating foods masquerading as irresistible treats.

So, I’m cooking up 2016 as the year of “what ifs?” including: What if you looked for ways to make healthy appealing? What if you tried to reach the USDA’s recommended nine daily servings of fruits and veggies and further protected your heart by capping your sodium intake at 1500 mg/day? What if you opened up to trying new dishes and new twists on old favorites?

Stay with me this year and I’ll help you make tasty, healthy, “what-ifs?” happen.  See you in my kitchen!

Meatless Monday minestrone

Makes 4 servings (about 2 cups per serving)

Inexpensive, flavor-packed ingredients team up to make quick work of this easy veggie-rich soup that’s perfect for those chilly nights. Prep ingredients the night before and pop in the fridge for a head start. Either stir together in the slow cooker in the morning or have everything waiting to cook at dinnertime.


Vegetable spray

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt added red kidney beans, drained and rinsed – divided use

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt added garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed – divided use

1 cup baby carrots, cut crosswise into ¼ – inch chunks

1 medium onion (about 5 ounces), chopped (about 1 cup)

1 medium zucchini (¼ pound), halved lengthwise and sliced ½ – inch thick

1 large rib celery, sliced ½ – inch thick

1 (14-½ ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained

3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth 

2 tablespoons no-salt-added tomato paste

3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 teaspoons salt-free dried Italian seasoning

1 large bay leaf

½ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal Kosher salt

½ cup dried, whole wheat or multi-grain, hi-protein elbow macaroni 

¼ pound curly kale, stems removed and leaves torn (about 4 cups packed)

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 tablespoons finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Meatless Monday Minestrone soup. (Photo by Olgany)
Meatless Monday Minestrone soup. (Photo by Olgany)

Slow cooker: Lightly coat 4-quart slow cooker with vegetable spray. Measure 2/3 cup of each bean type into slow cooker. Refrigerate leftover beans to sprinkle on salads. Add carrots and ingredients through pepper. Stir gently to combine.

Cook, covered, on low for seven hours. Then stir in salt, pasta and kale. Cook on high for 25 minutes or until pasta is just tender. Remove bay leaf and stir in olive oil. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Stovetop: Heat the two teaspoons olive oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sauté carrots, onion, celery and zucchini stirring frequently, until veggies soften and are lightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Stir in garlic, tomato paste and Italian seasoning.  Cook for two minutes, stirring constantly. 

Stir in broth, tomatoes, 2/3 cup of each of bean type and bay leaf; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add salt, pasta, kale, and pepper; stir. Simmer until kale wilts and pasta is just tender, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove bay leaf. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan. 

Nutrition information per serving: 250 calories; 4.5g fat; 1g saturated fat; 5 mg cholesterol; 306 mg sodium; 43 g total carbohydrate; 9 g dietary fiber; 10 g sugars; 12 g protein; 310% RDA Vitamin A; 190% RDA Vitamin C; 20 % RDA Calcium; 20% RDA Iron

SODIUM SAVVY: Different salts can have different sodium levels – as can salts with the same name. I’ve used Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt for years because its sodium level (280 mg per ¼ teaspoon) is under half that of table salt (590 mg per ¼ teaspoon) and significantly lower than Morton’s Coarse Kosher Salt (480 mg sodium per ¼ teaspoon). Plus, it has a clean taste.

Visit Carla’s blog for more insight on healthy cooking, healthy eating and healthy living. 

Copyright 2016 Carla F. Williams All Rights Reserved.