Tag Archives: Jessica Fishman Levinson MS RD

Real Mexican Dining

Last week I was on vacation in Mexico. It was great being away from the snow for a week, relaxing on the beach, and enjoying delicious Mexican cuisine. Many typical Mexican dishes in the States aren’t so good for your waistline — fried tacos, enchiladas, overstuffed burritos, sodium and fat laden refried beans, sour cream on the side of almost everything…the list goes on. In reality, Mexican food isn’t all that bad for you, at least not in Mexico.

Real Mexican dishes contain ingredients brimming with nutrients, including avocados, chili peppers, beans, salsa, and corn. They also cook a lot of fresh fish in Mexico, which is wonderful. Of course they have their fair share of pork and beef, but as always, balance is the key. Here are some pictures of the food my husband and I had while we were away:

Guacamole served with an assortment of add-ins on the side, including tomatoes, cheese, and crickets! (Don’t worry – we didn’t eat those!):
healthy mexican food healthy mexican food

Grouper and cheese quesadillas served with guacamole, salsa, chili pepper sauce, and black beans:
healthy mexican food

Tortilla soup (made with vegetable broth, tomatoes, avocados, tortilla strips):
healthy mexican food

We also tried some new foods while we were there, including epazote, a Mexican herb, and huitlacoche, which comes from corn and has been called the “Mexican truffle.”

Do you like Mexican food? What are some of your healthy Mexican favorites?


Do You Know What You’re Supposed to Eat?

Yesterday, the 2010 US Dietary Guidelines were released.  (Yes, we’re in 2011, but the guidelines were a little late).  These Guidelines are updated every five years and are supposed to be the foundation of our diets. Unfortunately, many American’s aren’t following the Guidelines, which is evident by the following statistics:

  • 72% of women and 64% of men are classified as overweight or obese
  • 1 in 3 children is overweight

The new Guidelines are not as different from the 2005 Guidelines as nutrition professionals were expecting, but there were some good changes that will hopefully help people implement the Guidelines in an easier way. Here are some of the key takeaways from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines:

  • Fill half your plate with fruits & vegetables
  • Make half of your grains whole grains by replacing refined grains with whole grains (like barley, oats, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, etc)
  • Increase intake of fat-free or 1% reduced fat dairy — milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Increase the amount and variety of seafood you eat — choose seafood in place of meat and poultry
    • 8 ounces of seafood per week is recommended (that’s 2 servings)
  • Increase plant sources of protein, including beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds
  • Increase physical activity — aim for 30 minutes a day
  • Limit sodium intake to 2300 mg/day or 1500 mg/day if you are over 51 or African American (of any age) or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease (50% of the US population falls in the category needing to limit sodium to  1500 mg/day)
    • Read sodium content on nutrition facts panels
    • Read the ingredients for sources of sodium
    • Don’t trust your taste buds — just because something tastes salty doesn’t mean it’s high in sodium. Many foods have salt baked in so it doesn’t taste salty.
  • Reduce intake of calories from solid fats (saturated and trans fats) and added sugars
    • Limit baked goods, butter, stick margarine, shortening, partially hydrogenated oils, bacon, hot dogs, ribs
    • Read the nutrition facts labels — look at amount of saturated and trans fats
    • Read the ingredients for sources of solid fats and added sugar (you can’t rely on the sugar amount on a label because many foods have sugar naturally)

Remember the bottom line: Balance the calories you take in from any and all food sources with the calories you are expending through physical activity. No food is off limits — it’s about enjoying what you like in moderation.

Want to know more about the guidelines? Check out my appearance on WNBC NY Nightly News with Chuck Scarborough!

Blanching Brightens Up Veggies

One of my favorite cooking techniques is blanching. I’ve mentioned blanching before, but I’ve never fully explained what it is and why I love it so much.

Picture this: You go to a cocktail party and set before you is a vegetable display with dips. There are bright orange carrots, crimson red tomatoes, lemon-yellow peppers, and dull green broccoli. Which one of these doesn’t fit?! This is a perfect example of when blanching can and should be used. The raw state of broccoli (and other green vegetables like string beans and snap peas) is not the most appetizing. Remember – we eat with our eyes too. So how do we correct this? We blanch these green veggies to bring out their brightness.

Blanching literally means “to whiten,” but in cooking it is a technique used to soften food, brighten it, or remove a strong taste from the food. The process of blanching is as follows, demonstrated here with raw broccoli.

blanching raw broccoli

Before: Raw Broccoli

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Plunge raw broccoli florets in the boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. (As you can see below, the color of the broccoli is now vibrant green – this happened immediately when placed in the boiling water.)

blanching raw broccoli

Broccoli plunged into boiling water

2. Using tongs, remove the broccoli from the water and plunge in a large bowl of ice water. This is known as “shocking” the vegetable, the purpose of which is to stop the cooking.

blanching raw broccoli

"Shocking" broccoli in ice water

3. After a couple of minutes, drain the broccoli and dry off (broccoli holds onto liquid, so squeeze it out!). Transfer to platter to serve.

blanching raw broccoli

After: Blanched Broccoli

Blanching makes quite a difference, don’t you think?! Have you ever blanched food before?

Cheesy Bean, Zucchini, & Red Pepper Dip

Between football games and holiday parties there sure are a lot of celebrations this time of year, all of which tend to involve food.  Last week I shared one of my favorite hors d’oeurves, Salmon Ceviche in Cucumber Cups, on fellow dietitian Robyn Webb’s Fabulous Food Finds blog. Today I have another recipe to share, but this time it’s a classic cold weather favorite that is made a bit more nutritiously, while maintaining the delicious flavor.

Cheesy Bean, Zucchini, & Red Pepper Dip
Serves: 8; Serving Size: ½ cuphealthier bean dip


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 1  small zucchini, cubed
  • 1 small red pepper, cubed
  • 1  small red onion, chopped
  • 1 to 2  jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
  • 1 can (15-ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  teaspoon  chili powder
  • 1 cup grated reduced-fat Monterey jack or cheddar cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, until soft. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Repeat step 2 with the red pepper, and then repeat again with the onions.
  4. Once the vegetables are all cooked, add them all back into the pan over low heat for another 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer vegetables from pan to a small to medium-sized ovenproof bowl. Add the drained beans, salt, pepper, and chili powder and toss to combine.
  6. Top bean and vegetable mixture with cheese and bake for about 10 minutes. Once the cheese is mostly melted, broil the dip for about 2 to 3 more minutes until the cheese is brown and bubbly. Serve with healthier chips.

Nutrition Information (per ½ cup serving): 106 calories, 7 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 4 g fat, 2g sat fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 247 mg sodium

Cinnamon-Chili and Maple-Glazed Walnuts

As you know, lately I’ve been on a walnut kick ever since my visit to the walnut harvest. Well, a couple of weeks ago the nice people at the California Walnut Commission sent me a 5-pound bag of walnut halves from this year’s harvest! So I knew I needed to get cooking in the kitchen with these nutrition-filled babies!

california walnuts

5-pound bag of California walnuts

First thing I thought to make was spiced walnuts. I wanted to combine some of the sweetness of caramelized walnuts without all the stickiness, so I decided to do a combo of salty and sweet, and what I ended up with was a batch of Cinnamon-Chili and Maple-Glazed Walnuts, perfect to snack on and to serve at a holiday cocktail party!

Cinnamon-Chili and Maple-Glazed Walnuts
10 servingsmaple glazed walnuts


  • 11/2 cups walnut halves
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder


  1. Pre-heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the walnuts, maple syrup, and all the seasonings to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until the nuts are coated and caramelized, about 3 minutes.
  3. Remove from the pan and let cool. Once the walnuts have settled, use a fork to break apart pieces that have stuck together.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 122 calories, 2 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g fiber, 10 g total fat (1 g saturated fat, 7 g polyunsaturated fat, 1 g monounsaturated fat), 0 g cholesterol, 30 mg sodium

What’s your favorite way to cook with walnuts?

Food Meets Fashion

The following post was written by nutritioulicious™ intern Jo Bartell

As I shared in my intro post, I used to work in fashion, and I hope to combine my career as a dietitian with my love for fashion. Fashion and food have always been among my favorite topics, and lately it seems I’m not alone! Food and fashion are coming together in pop-culture and in Hollywood, where food and restaurants are becoming as trendy and fashionable as the newest clothing designers and runway shows. Chefs are even becoming the newest celebrities.

This concept became even more evident this season at Barney’s New York, where the holiday windows read, “Have a Foodie Holiday.” I went to check out this perfect depiction of the foodie/fashion combination last week and I wanted to share some pictures with you.  Renowned chefs from Julia Child and Jamie Oliver to Paula Deen, Rachael Ray, Daniel Boulud, and Bobby Flay are featured this holiday at Barney’s in an elaborate, whimsical display that is undoubtedly attracting attention from fashionistas and foodies near and far.  Enjoy!

holiday windows at barney's

Trail Blazers: Julia Child, Thomas Keller, Jamie Oliver

rachael ray holiday windows at Barney's

Paula Deen & Rachael Ray

daniel boulud holiday windows at Barney's

Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud

Do you have a favorite celebrity chef?

A Taste of Italy — Dinner at Il Buco

The following post was written by nutritioulicious™ intern Megan Kian
Imagine entering the rustic home of a small Italian family. This is exactly how I felt when I was seated at my table at Il Buco on Bond Street in New York just last week. The dim lights, the cozy atmosphere, and the rows of handmade pottery created the perfect ambiance for an Italian dinner.

il buco italian restaurant new york city[Photo credit: IlBuco.com]

Eating out in the city can be tough. With over 24,000 restaurants to choose from, it’s hard to know where to go for the freshest and healthiest meals. Il Buco enters the category of a restaurant that is both nutritious and delicious.

As I was handed the menu, I noticed something especially unique about Il Buco’s dinner menu. If you flip to the back of the menu you can find a list of all the main ingredients that the chefs at Il Buco use in their various dishes. We, as patrons, aren’t usually privy to where the ingredients in our meals come from. Il Buco’s philosophy is that they use only the freshest ingredients in their simple, yet elegant dishes. I began to salivate as I eagerly awaited my Cachi con Finocchio (a salad of persimmons (cachi), fennel (finnochio), hazelnuts, mint, and parmesan). Once I finally delved into my unusual salad, I could see the philosophies of the restaurant coming to life. The luscious and fresh ingredients of the salad created a refreshing, yet mouth-watering combination.

My next course consisted of a moist grilled halibut with perfectly charred tomatoes and fingerling potatoes, topped with aioli, a sauce consisting of garlic and olive oil (olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fat!). Although fish has never been my favorite, I couldn’t help but like this halibut dish when it was accompanied by such appetizing vegetables. The charred outside of the tomatoes added another level of flavor to the dish, revealing a smokiness within the cherry tomatoes. The fingerling potatoes were perfectly cooked with a flaky skin that when cut into revealed the soft white inside of the potato.

As I finished my last bit of halibut, I realized that Il Buco had proved to me that you can indulge in a healthy, yet wonderfully tasty meal while dining out.

Read about Il Buco’s philosophy and the ingredients they use on their website.

*Note: Opinions expressed in this post are solely my own and I have not been compensated by anyone for this post.