Cold Summer Treats

It’s summer and it’s hot.  I’m on call this weekend.  That combination made me think about cold comfort food I could take to work.

Chocolate (in any form) is always the answer… but I decided maybe I could find something a little more healthy (and a little less caloric) that could serve as the “treat” we all crave when we are working hard on call.  I’m thinking the team will like a little Salpicon mid afternoon tomorrow…

Salpicon – a sparkling fruit drink from Columbia

This soup looks delicious, but with the heavy cream probably isn’t in the “low calorie” list.  You can substitute milk or yogurt to cut calories (without too much sacrifice of taste).  But, then again, as an on-call treat this still beats McDonald’s!  This is just one example of cold soups – which are great for summer on-call days.

Cold avocado soup

Smoothies are great comfort food – but logistically not easy when you are on call.  If you love smoothies, you might want to invest in an inexpensive single-serve blender.  Take the fruit in a baggie, put some yogurt and ice cubes in… instant smoothie.  Alternatively, you can blend your smoothie at home and put it in a container in the refrigerator that you can shake up before drinking.

Banana mango smoothie

Easy, Fast Recipes: Stone Soup

I found another great recipe site to share – Stone SoupJules Clancey, who developed her blog to share recipes, also runs a cooking school and has authored an ecookbook.  The site has a great collection of recipes with only 5 ingredients – and that are usually well within the parameters of the “pizza rule”.

Zucchini “surprise” pasta

Chickpea and Rosemary Fritatta

Simple Salmon Kedgeree

Super moist carrot cake

Healthy Habit: Eat Breakfast Every Day

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to come up with monthly “resolutions” for myself and for anyone who follows this blog.  Cooking Light magazine (which is one of my favorite sources of recipes and ideas for healthy living) had the same idea, so I am shamelessly borrowing their healthy habits!

Cooking Light’s 12 Healthy Habits

It’s a lot easier to commit to 30 days of a new habit than a full year.  So this month’s goal is to eat breakfast everyday.

Granola with Yogurt & Berries from

Most residents and medical students start their day early.  At 5 am, no one wants to eat a big breakfast.  But, you really should eat something as you are heading out the door.  By 9 or 10 am, you’ll be hungry – and the muffins in the surgeon’s lounge (or breakfast at MacDonald’s) will be calling out your name.  You have to have a strategy to manage this rise and fall in insulin (and accompanying “starvation”).  If you don’t, you’ll end up eating nothing but fast food (and the box it comes in).

Physicians in practice and training should probably make a commitment to eat two breakfasts, not just one – an early breakfast to literally “break the fast” from the night before and a second breakfast in the mid morning.  (aka “Elevenses”)


A good breakfast should give you a balance of protein and carbohydrate, with a little fat.   Here’s a list of suggestions for breakfast that provide the right mix of nutrients and are easy (fast) to prepare:

  • Cold cereal with milk
  • Yogurt with cereal and fruit
  • Oatmeal or other whole grains with milk +/- toppings
  • Leftovers from last night’s dinner
  • Frozen waffles or toast (whole grain is better) with peanut butter
  • Bagel or toast with cream cheese and salmon
  • Rice (or other grains) with eggs
  • Energy bars
  • Sandwiches
  • Egg mugs
  • Smoothies
  • Breakfast tacos (see below)
  • Scrambled eggs (plus whatever you want) in a tortilla
  • Healthy fast food
  • Homemade muffins or breakfast bars (make a batch on the weekend)
  • Hardboiled eggs and fruit

Healthy breakfast sandwich from

MLBs Breakfast Tacos

These breakfast tacos are my “go to” breakfast for hectic mornings.  I make them on the weekend in a big batch to freeze for the week

Buy 10-12 whole wheat tortillas, 1 can of fat free refried beans, 1 bag of reduced fat shredded Mexican cheese.   (if calories aren’t an issue for you, use regular refried beans and shredded cheese)

Spread all the tortillas out on the counter and divide everything up between them.

Add whatever else you want:

  • cooked chicken or turkey (grilled in the deli is best)
  • Sausage (regular or veggie)
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Bell peppers or Roasted red peppers (from a jar)
  • Fresh or canned green chiles

Put the tacos in the freezer in individual freezer bag .  Put the individual bags in a big freezer bag if you want to further limit freezer burn.

2 minutes out of the freezer and into the microwave = breakfast.

Breakfast taco from

Other links to ideas for fast, healthy breakfasts

Why You Should Eat Breakfast from

Healthy breakfast: Quick, flexible options to grab at home from

10 Quick, Healthy Breakfast Options from

10 Tasty, Easy and Healthy Breakfast Ideas from

Healthy Habit – Eat Whole Grains

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to come up with monthly “resolutions” for myself and for anyone who follows this blog.  Cooking Light magazine (which is one of my favorite sources of recipes and ideas for healthy living) had the same idea, so I am shamelessly borrowing their healthy habits!

Cooking Light’s 12 Healthy Habits

It’s a lot easier to commit to 30 days of a new habit than a full year.  So this month’s goal is to eat three servings of whole grains every day.

Definition of grains (from Wikipedia): Cereals, grains, or cereal grains are grasses (members of the monocot families Poaceae or Gramineae)cultivated for the edible components of their fruit seeds (botanically, a type of fruit called a caryopsis): the endosperm, germ, and bran.”

“Whole grain” means you get the whole thing – the endosperm, the germ and the bran.  Processed grains are only the endosperm (which is mostly carbodydrates).  When you remove the germ and the bran, you are removing most of the vitamins, minerals and fiber.

How the companies cheat. In the USA, the words “whole wheat” or “whole grain” really don’t mean anything… products labeled “whole wheat” or “whole grain” may have trivial amounts of whole grain in them. You have to see “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the label to be sure it’s truly a whole grain product.

In addition to buying foods with 100% whole grains, you can add whole grains to your diet by buying and cooking the actual grain. There are lots of ways to cook grains that follow the “pizza rule” (don’t cook anything that takes longer than it takes to order a pizza).

Recipes from

Whole grain recipes from

Whole grain recipes from

The “easy” grains

You’ve grown up with a variety of grains – which are all familiar to you.  They all come in a processed and “whole grain” version. So, if you are used to eating white rice or eating white bread, it’s time to give the whole grain versions a try!

OATS Although oats can be cooked whole in dinner recipes, in the United States, they are usually eaten as oatmeal.

There are 4 kinds of oatmeal you can make for breakfast.  Oat groats are the untouched whole grain.  Steel cut oats are oat groats – just cut up.  Both of them take a long time to cook.  For busy people cooking them overnight in a slow cooker or partially cooking them the night before is the way to go. The other two kinds of oatmeal (rolled and instant) are more processed (i.e. less vitamins, minerals and fiber) but are still whole grain.

Oatmeal is a great way to start the day – and it’s a fantastic middle of the night snack when you are on call.  Beware the instant flavored oatmeals –they have lots of added sugar!  It’s better to take a zip-lock of instant oats and a second Ziplock of dried fruit and nuts instead. And be really wary of fast food oatmeal!

BROWN RICE Rice is consumed in mass quantities all over the world.  Brown rice takes about 45 minutes to cook, so you’ll have to plan ahead a little.  Instant brown rice takes about 10 minutes, but the rice has been processed a little (slightly less nutritious but better than white rice).   A rrice cooker is a great appliance to have (good for holiday or birthday wish lists). You can also steam veggies, shrimp, fish, etc in the rice cooker while the rice is cooking –  or use it for an easy “one pot” dinner. Rice salad is a great food for call.  I usually make it with celery, carrots, left over veggies,  tuna and a vinaigrette – but there are a lot of  variations on the theme.



Sesame Brown Rice Salad with Shredded Chicken and Peanuts

Leftover rice also makes a great breakfast.  You can put fruit and milk on it (like oatmeal) or put an egg over it (great with some soy sauce). (In Japan the egg is raw, but it’s probably better for health reasons to cook it first)

WHEAT Whole Wheat is most commonly turned into flour to make breads, tortillas, and pastas.  Cracked whole wheat is called bulgur and can be used in place of rice or in salads.


Bulgur With Swiss Chard, Chickpeas and Feta

Popcorn. You may not think of popcorn as a whole grain, but it is.  When air popped and In the absences of movie butter, it’s a healthy food item – mainly because of the amount of fiber it provides.  It’s better to use your stove top or an air popper– commercial microwave popcorn is usually filled with transfats (and calories).  Another alternative is homemade microwave popcorn.

Grains you may not have tried (but should)

QUINOA Quinoa is one of my favorite grains – enough that I did a post on it a few months ago.  If you are going to wander into the “unusual” grains, this would be where to start.  Quinoa takes about 30 minutes to cook on the stovetop. You can eat it plain or serve it instead of rice in any recipe.  If you have a rice cooker, you can use the white rice setting and it will cook perfectly.  Put a few veggies (and maybe some shrimp, fish or chicken) into the rice cooker (or steam them on the stove) and you have a dinner like this:

Sweet potato, kale and quinoa

BUCKWHEAT Buckwheat is eaten as a grain in Eastern Europe fairly commonly.  In the USA, we are probably more familiar with buckwheat as a flour used in pancakes or in soba noodles.

Spicy Soba Noodles with Shiitakes and Cabbage

BARLEY Barley is the grain used in most beers… which does not count as a whole grain food item!  It’s a chewy, nutty grain that is delicious in soups, casseroles and salads. The classic combination (which is very delicious) is barley and beef – usually in a stew.  If you have the time, it’s well worth it.  For a faster combination you might try this recipe (add some chicken or pre-cooked beef if you want)


Carrot-Mushroom-Barley Stew

SPELT Spelt is often sold in the stores as farro (from Italy).  Farro is delicious. by itself, in salads or soups.  It’s also great in risottos– it takes longer than rice to cook in a risotto, but you don’t have to stir.


Mediterranean Farro Salad

MILLET Millet is a small grain that, like the other grains can be used in salads, casseroles or as a cereal. It’s a little more bland (less nutty) than the other grains, so it’s probably better to use it in more flavorful recipes.


Stuffed Tomatoes

WILD RICE Wild rice is in a completely different species than brown rice. Like many of the whole grains it takes 40-60 minutes to cook on the stove.  It’s often used in stuffings for chicken or other poultry and is also great in pilafs and casseroles.


Gumbo Z’herbes with Wild Rice

TEFF Anyone who has ever eaten Ethiopian food has had teff. Teff flour is what is used in injera, the large flat bread used to eat Ethiopian meals.  Teff is the smallest grain in nature, and has high levels of protein, calcium, iron and fiber. I recently tried it for breakfast (with dried fruits and honey).  It reminded me of a nutty cream of wheat.  It’s really dense (and becomes gelatinous in the refrigerator) – but it was a nice change for breakfast.

AMARANTH Amaranth can be boiled or popped like popcorn.  Because they are smaller than other seeds, amaranth only takes about 20 minutes to cook.   Smaller seeds tend to have more concentrated nutrients; amaranth is high in calcium and protein.

Like teff, this is probably best tried as a breakfast item if you want to experiment.


Amaranth for Breakfast

Fast Easy Recipes:

In keeping with this month’s goal of cooking more at home, I thought I’d share a website with you. has great low fat, low calorie recipes that are easy to cook (and family tested).  Even if you are not worried about your weight, these recipes are great for being on call – lots of energy and lots of food without too much fat (which will make you sleepy).

Recipe for cheesy zucchini enchiladas


Recipe for Shephard’s Pie (LIghtened up)


Recipe for Southwestern Black Bean Salad

Healthy Habit: Get Cooking

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to come up with monthly “resolutions” for myself and for anyone who follows this blog.  Cooking Light magazine (which is one of my favorite sources of recipes and ideas for healthy living) had the same idea, so I am shamelessly borrowing their healthy habits!

Cooking Light’s 12 Healthy Habits

Last week I had a fairly common conversation with one of my residents.  She told me that with her schedule it’s almost impossible for either parent to cook for the family.  Secondly, she said when she does shop for food, she buys everything she thinks she might need… and half of it goes bad in the refrigerator.   They have resorted to picking up take-out as their solution to the problem.  There are at least two major problems with this strategy (and a lot of other minor problems): 1)  It costs a LOT more and 2) It is clearly not going to be as healthy.

I know this is a common scenario, hence why this month’s resolution is to cook at least 3 meals a week at home.  It’s doable!  Here’s how to get started:

Change your mindset about cooking.

Cooking is not hard and it doesn’t take as long as you think.  There are some basic skills you have to know, but you can start small and add new skills one at a time.  Make up your mind that you are going to acquire this important skill and practice!  Start with one simple act – sautéing an onion.  Here’s how to cut up an onion and how to sauté.  If you get this one simple skill down, you’ve learned the beginning of many, many recipes!

Make a plan

Decide ahead of time what you are going to cook and write it down. You can map out the whole week if you are a “gunner” – but,  at a minimum a) find 3 recipes for the week b) make a shopping list for the ingredients in those three recipes and c) go shopping.  If you plan ahead, you’ll have everything you need – but not a lot more (so no more growing interesting molds in the back of the refrigerator).  You’ll also be able to really eat well when you are on call (which is the hardest day to plan for).

Remember the pizza rule.

No one who is really busy has time to do fussy cooking.  You should look for recipes that take less than 30 minutes (the time it takes to order a pizza).  I’ve posted a lot of recipes that meet this requirement (use the tag marked “recipes” to the left of this web page).  Another strategy is to pick a cookbook, one issue of a magazine, or a website (some of my favorites are listed below) to choose the week’s recipes.  Another option is to subscribe to a site that will send you weekly menus (and will also automatically make your shopping list) – like Six O’Clock Scramble ($54.50/year) , Send Me Recipes ($65/year), Dinner Planner, ($60/year), or Make Dinner Easy (free).

Cook ahead for the week

It’s boring to eat the same thing over and over… but it beats buying fast food on the way home.  If you cook a big casserole or stew on the weekend, you’ll have it for meals on call, late at night or lunches.  If you really want to cook just once for the entire week, you can double the recipe or make two different dishes at the same time, and freeze portions for later in the week.

Supplement your main dish with lots of fruits and vegetables

If you don’t have a steamer basket, this is a cheap piece of kitchen equipment that is really worth having.  Almost any vegetable can be sautéed or steamed and it’s really easy to do.  Buy vegetables fresh, wash them, dry them and then store (clean) in the refrigerator (one less thing to do when you are tired). Refrigerator to plate will be less than 10 minutes for most veggies. (Here’s a table of cooking times for vegetables.)  Leftover steamed vegetables make a great “salad” by themselves (just add some olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper) or as an addition to other salads.  You can also toss them into scrambled eggs or an omelet.  Having steamed potatoes in the refrigerator is particularly helpful – they are great in salads, with eggs, or just as a snack.  Frozen vegetables are more expensive, but are perfectly fine, too.

Make a list of  “emergency” meals (<5 minutes) for nights you are completely exhausted and really, really don’t want to cook. (And keep these items in your pantry and/or refrigerator.)

Here are some ideas to get you started:

1.    Scrambled eggs or egg whites (with leftover veggies and/or cheese if you have them) with toast.

2.    Angel hair pasta (takes 3-5 minutes) with bottled spaghetti sauce with a green salad

3.    Veggie (or regular) hamburgers (from the freezer) with a green salad

4.    Couscous with canned beans, canned tomatoes and any leftover (or frozen) vegetables you have

5.    Sandwiches

6.    Pancakes

Websites for “pizza rule” recipes

My favorite magazines to cook from

Cooking Light

Bon Appetit

Clean Eating

Vegetarian Times

Cookbooks worth buying

How To Cook Everything

The Silver Palate Cookbook

The Art of Simple Food


Fast Easy Recipes: Slow Cookers

Residents, medical students and busy people in general don’t have time to cook.  Slow cookers are a great option for preparing great food without much time or effort.

Slow cookers are cheap and plentiful.  There are a lot of options, and many sites to compare features and prices. I don’t have any personal information to recommend one slow cooker over another, but here are some examples to consider.  The Hamilton Beach Set and Forget costs about $45.  The advantage of programmable slow cookers is that you don’t have to be home (or awake) to remember to turn it off when the food is done.  The Rival round crock-pot is also cheap (about $30) and programmable. The West Bend slow cooker (about $35) is intriguing because you can use the base as a griddle.  There is some advantage to buying a slow cooker with a removable insert – they allow you to assemble ingredients the night before (and store them in the refrigerator).  Also they are easier to clean.

Here are some of the many websites devoted to slow cooker recipes:,,, A Year of Slow Cooking

Slow cookers are a great choice for “day off” recipes that will provide you with great food for the rest of the week.

Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken


Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chile


Beef Daube Provencal

Overnight Oatmeal


I’m beginning to think that Clementines are the perfect winter food item for busy people.  They are very portable, easy to peel and usually seedless, which makes them very easy to eat.  They are small, so they can fit in a white coat pocket.  Two or three make a great fruit portion so you can feel righteous in your good food choices.  They are really sweet, too, so eating them feels like a real treat. You can buy them by the pound in some stores, but more commonly they come in a box.

Clementines are hesperidiums (a subset of citrus fruit).  They are a small type of mandarin orange.   (the same as you get in the cans).  They are more perishable than oranges, so keep them in the refrigerator crisper drawer.

“The origin of clementines is shrouded in mystery. Some attribute their discovery to father Clement, a monk in Algeria, who tending his mandarin garden in the orphanage of Misserghim, found a natural mutation. He nurtured the fruit tree and subsequently called it “clementino”. Others, like Japanese botanist Tanaka, believe that clementines must have originated in Asia and found their way through human migration to the Mediterranean. Whatever their origin, the fact is that clementines found their natural climate and soil in Spain, where they developed their particular aroma, sweetness and taste. Commercial production of clementines began in Spain in 1925. Today there are 161,000 acres dedicated to the cultivation of clementines.” (From

Clementines are a great addition green salads, grain salads, chopped vegetable salad, jicama salad … really any kind of salad.


Here are some other recipes, some easy (within the “pizza rule” and others that take a little more effort – good for cooking on a day off.

Chicken Paillards with Clementine Salsa – Paillard just means a flattened out chicken breast – you can use this salsa on plain chicken breasts or fish if you prefer.  You can use clementine gremolata (another kind of salsa) on chicken or fish, too.


Caramelized Bay Scallops with Clementines and Cauliflower


Clementine-Chipotle Roasted Chicken Served with Yellow Rice and Avocados

Clementine Cake


Easy Fast Recipes: The Six O’Clock Scramble

One of the keys to eating well as a resident is to plan your meals.  I’ve posted before about how to cook for yourself in medical school and residency (i.e. how to plan) but came across a site this morning I thought I should share. The Six O’Clock Scramble is a service you can subscribe to that sends you recipes (with shopping lists) for the week.  Most importantly, the recipes follow my “pizza rule” i.e. they take less time to cook than it takes to order a pizza.   You can customize it for vegetarian or other specific diet needs and also for the number of meals you want in the week.


For those of you that “don’t cook” – here’s a FAQ from the Website:

I am not a very good cook and I actually hate cooking!  How can the Scramble® help someone like me?


Scramble® recipes are designed to be EASY with all instructions clearly spelled out and few, simple ingredients.  Most importantly, the Scramble® takes the stress out of planning for meals by designing a week’s worth of balanced menus complete with healthy sides.

I have used this site myself in the past – the recipes are good and they are easy!  They also come with complete nutritional information, so if you are trying to control calories, limit fat or increase protein, you will have the information.   This service is a good compromise for students and residents that want to plan their meals, but don’t have the time.

The main reason I am posting this today is I came across a deal to subscribe at a discount if you do this before December 25th: This would also make a great holiday gift for a busy medical student or resident!

Why You Should Eat Breakfast

Most of us start very early in the morning and have a variety of excuses why we don’t/won’t eat breakfast, most often “I’m never hungry this early” or  “I’m in too big a rush”.  You don’t have to go to medical school to realize that your blood glucose levels will be low after 8-10 hours of no food.  It’s why things like donuts and sweet cereals are so popular for breakfast  But a quick infusion of sugar to spike your serum glucose leads to a spike of insulin which leads to hypoglycemia.  Not a good idea if you want to stay awake in class or be sharp when seeing patients.

It’s much better to eat a breakfast with carbohydrates, protein and little fat if you want to sustain your glucose levels.  There are a lot of other advantages to eating a good breakfast.

No one with a busy schedule is going to spend time preparing a “fancy” breakfast in the morning.  But there are many, many good options that don’t take any time at all.  I’ve listed some great websites and recipes below – but don’t limit yourself to these.  Look into typical breakfast choices in other countries, eat the leftovers from last night’s dinner…. Just don’t skip breakfast!

15 ways to eat a beautiful breakfast

18 Quick Breakfast Recipes for Busy Mornings

12 Smart Ideas for Breakfast On the Go