Comfort Food Makeover

When you want to warm up a fall night or turn around a bad day, it can be tempting to reach for comfort delivered on a platter. But relying on food as a happiness boost can lead to an expanding waistline. Don’t let your favorite comfort dishes weigh you down. With these healthy twists, they’ll leave you happy and healthy in no time.

Comfort food: Fluffy Pancakes

Nothing says good morning on a brisk fall day like a plate stacked high with flapjacks. But this carb-filled meal with leave you sluggish by lunch. Try subbing out your usual thickening agent for Greek yogurt, and you’ll sneak in some protein and cut down on saturated fat.  

Comfort Food: Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

Melted cheese between buttered bread is prefect for dipping into steamy, creamy tomato soup. This longtime classic way of warming -- and cheering -- up is easy to whip up. Minimize the carbs by melting the cheese over the cup and cutting out the bread, similar to French onion soup. Lighten it up even more by using low-fat milk and cheese.

Comfort Food: French Fries

Whether they come from the drive thru or your freezer, french fries are at the top of the comfort list. Lessen the nutritional blow by cutting out the “fry,” and bake them yourself.  Lightly season the finger-licking food with sea salt and herbs of your choice, and you’ll be on your way to feeling better about your day -- and what you’re eating.  

Lasagna

This delightful dish has pleased many a diner. What could be bad about stacking pasta, meat, cheese and sauce? Well, not much -- aside from the fat and heavy-handed, cholesterol-laden ingredients. Lessen the lasagna load by buying low-fat ricotta and mozzarella. You can also swap spinach for ground beef, making it a great meal for Meatless Mondays.

Comfort Food: Chocolate Cake

Chocolate. Is there really a better food that can help make it all better than chocolate? Oh, yes … cake. Cake is pretty good too, making chocolate cake the best of any sweet combo when it comes to comfort. Subbing in ingredients like applesauce and zucchini makes this dessert practically guilt-free.

Sniffle-Fighting Snacks

Ah, fall. The leaves are changing, the mercury is dropping and … the air is filling with the sound of sneezes and coughs. With the average kid coming down with a cold eight to 10 times a year, it’s no wonder that you’re trying your hardest to keep your family healthy.

Along with enforcing hand-washing rules, also try incorporating immune-boosting nutrients. Snacks are the perfect opportunity to sneak in an extra serving, so stock up on the following foods -- so you can sidestep those sniffles this season.

1. Yogurt: This creamy treat is packed with healthy probiotics, the “good” kind of bacteria. According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, students who had a probiotic drink daily for three months as half as many sick days as those who got a placebo drink.

2. Oats: A bowl of oatmeal is a quick and filling snack. Plus, oats are high in beta-glucans, a compound that can fend off the sniffles. According to German scientists, those who were given beta-glucan daily for 26 weeks had 13 percent fewer sick days than those who weren’t. Want your kids to gobble up their oats? Bake them into delicious low-fat cookies.

3. Pumpkin seeds: Half a cup of these crunchy seeds deliver 41 percent of all of the zinc you need in a day. Research shows that zinc may stop viruses from spreading in the body, shortening the duration of the cold or flu. Try mixing them into yogurt, adding them to trail mix or whipping up a homemade granola bar, such as this five-minute recipe.

4. Berries: Not only are they high in vitamin C, but berries are also loaded with antioxidants. These nutrients protect against the damage that can wear down the immune system. Eat those berries out of hand, or add them to that bowl of yogurt or oatmeal.

5. Tea: Whether you prefer green or black, or iced or hot, brew up some benefits with this drink. In a study from Harvard University, people who sipped black tea for two weeks had 10 times the amount of a cold-fighting protein called interferon than those who didn’t. Experts believe that a type of antioxidants in tea, catechins, may kill of viruses. So put on that kettle!

6. Spinach: It’s no secret that this dark leafy green is good for you. But it packs a particular punch against colds, containing vitamins C, E and B6 -- three nutrients shown to rev up your immunity. Can’t get your kids to eat spinach? Think again: Try whipping up a tasty smoothie from a frozen banana, orange juice and a handful of spinach. Except for the green color, they won’t even realize they’re sipping up their greens!

5 Digital Ways to Stay Close to Grandparents

When we were kids, we likely spent time getting to know grandma by baking cookies with her. Or we went fishing with grandpa, or played a game of Monopoly after Sunday dinner.

These days, though, extended families are more likely to be spread out, more than an afternoon's drive from each other.

The good news is, today's grands are also more tech-savvy than they were even five years ago. In 2012, 53 percent of American adults over the age of 65 used the Internet and email, according to the Pew Research Center. This is the first time in history that at least half of senior citizens are web fluent.

Those two trends make for the perfect opportunity to try out some of the new sites and apps that grandparents can use to stay close to their grandkids. If your parents live far away, you're probably already using Skype to keep them in the loop on your kids' daily lives. Here's what else is worth a try:

  1. Face Juggler: This new app lets you take photos of multiple people, swap the faces, then share the new portraits via email. It sounds silly, but makes for some addictive fun. My 10-year-old neighbor, Christopher Bein, has tried this out: "Grammy Lois said she hasn't laughed so hard in a long time!"  
  2. Scoot & Doodle: This website is a shareable doodle pad. All you need are Gmail addresses and a mouse. It’s the new drawing-together-at-the-dining-room-table – and the perfect way for grandparents to interact with their grandkids online.
  3. Grandparent Games: Set up a free account to connect your parents and your kids face to face to play interactive activities together. There's also a mobile app. 
    Instagram: You and your tween or teen may be using it, yet you probably haven't thought of encouraging your parents or in-laws to join. But why not? It's a social network based solely on photo sharing, something most grandparents love. It's really appealing to seniors who aren’t quite ready for the Facebook scene. 
  4. Ancestry app: Researching your family tree is more popular than ever with our parents' generation. They, in turn, relish sharing their discoveries with their grandchildren. The Ancestry app lets grandparents and their favorite kids build their family tree together. They can learn the history of previous generations and record their findings at the same time.

9 Succulent Pies to Make in September

There’s nothing like late summer and early fall to capture all the wonderful flavors in nature. And the weather is cooling off just enough that you won’t mind cooking. September is one of the best months for fresh, seasonal fruit pies. Here, a few of our favorites.

1. Lime Tart with Blackberries and Blueberries

As lovely as it is delicious, this late summer tart is a surefire crowd pleaser. The sweet, juicy berries serve as the perfect foil to the lime curd’s tartness. Their deep crimson hue stands in gorgeous contrast to the light green shade underneath. 


2. Lattice-Top Nectarine-Blackberry Pie

According to Emily Elsen, co-owner of the Brooklyn pie shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds, nectarines and peaches both pair well with blueberries. However, she prefers the former, because they don’t have to be peeled and they offer a brighter, unexpected flavor.


3. Peach-Pecan Pie

This Peach-Pecan pie, adapted from Nancie McDermott's book Southern Pies, makes the perfect summer to fall dessert. Dig into the pecan-crumb top to reveal a rich sour cream and peach filling.


4. Deep-Dish Pumpkin Pie

Chef Peter Hoffman made this Thanksgiving favorite when he used to work at the New York restaurant Savoy. More than a pumpkin pie, consider this a four-layer pie to wow everyone at the table. First you have the pumpkin layer. Add to that a delicious walnut and marzipan crunch. Over that, spread the cranberry layer, and, finally, finish with whipped cream and cream cheese topping. It’s time consuming, but you’ll never be able to get through fall without making it again.


5. Gluten-Free End of Summer Pie

Love pie, but following a gluten-free diet? That doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite summer dessert – at all! Quit moping and whip up this easy gluten-free galette, made with end-of-summer berries, nectarines and ginger.


6. Plum-Blackberry Streusel Pie

Some of us love a traditional two-crust pie. Others long for a crunchy, oat streusel atop their pie. For those who belong to the latter camp, we’ve hand-picked this recipe for its unusual flavor combination. Baking with plums is similar to baking with cherries – they’re tart and rich and provide a deep, inky color.


7. Salted Caramel Apple Pie

For a new take on an old fall favorite, we love this recipe for Salted caramel apple pie. After all, salted caramel tastes good in everything. Serve with cinnamon ice cream.


8. Caramel-Walnut Pie with Dried Cherries

Crispy and toasted on top and rich and gooey in the center, this pecan pie- inspired recipe isn’t quite as sweet as the original, thanks to tart cherries boiled in port, but it is every bit as delicious.


9. Paradise Pumpkin Pie

What makes this pumpkin pie recipe so special? A layer of cheesecake on the bottom and a chopped pecan topping to finish it off.

Lunch Box Remix: 5 Ingredients, 5 ways

The new school year is fast approaching, which means you’ll be packing lunches soon enough. But you don’t have to settle for ho-hum PB&Js every day -- or spend a ton of money and time to come up with unique lunches every day. Kick off the season with a brown-bagged bang with five basic ingredients -- turkey, cheddar, avocados, apples and peanut butter -- served up in five deliciously simple ways.

Monday: Turkey Avocado Roll-Ups
Turkey sandwiches are so last year: Instead, try this tasty wrap-free roll up and substitute avocado and cheddar for the filling ingredients. Lay turkey slices on a cutting board, then top with avocado slices and cheddar. After rolling it up, wrap it in aluminum foil. Pack some apples and peanut butter for dipping on the side as a healthy snack.

Tuesday: Applewiches

Make a fruity fun sammy without the sliced bread. Crisp apples make for the perfect bookends to sharp cheddar and creamy peanut butter -- and the twist is sure to bring a smile to your little student’s face. 

Wednesday: Cheddar-Apple Turkey Salad
Keep it fresh and light with a lettuce-free tossed salad. Shred the turkey and mix it with  cheddar and apples chunks, then toss with the dressing of your choice. This protein-packed meal will keep you and your kids satisfied all afternoon long.

Thursday: Turkey Stuffed Avocados
Dress up school lunch with a fancy dish. Peel the avocado, remove the pit and fill with turkey and cheddar slices. 

Friday: Cheddar Cupcakes With Avocado Frosting
Celebrate a school week well done with this spin on a classic kid-favorite treat. The handful of happiness will surely have you crowned the coolest mom ever. Plus, a little whimsy every now and then can go a long way in reminding your kiddo you care.