The Kitchen Counter Plate Challenge: Healthy Snack Ideas

Healthy Snack Ideas

Easy questions for you today: Say you have a plate of cookies on the kitchen counter, do they get eaten? If you are like me and my family, the answer is yes and quickly. Same for chocolate chips, BBQ potato chips and day old movie popcorn. (This doesn’t happen when they are in a container and hidden in a cabinet.)

Next question: Do your kids (or other loved ones) try grabbing food from the counters while you are cooking dinner? In my family we have a little lady who likes to eat all sorts of things during food prep, but as soon as it hits the table it is no longer what she likes. This includes lettuce leaves, carrot peels, diced onions, and beans. The more I slap at her hands the more she would like to bother me by eating it!

Final question: Do your housemates (or you!) constantly rummage around for snacks between meals, or whine about needing something to eat? I am so tired of finishing up the dishes from a meal only to have a kid riffling through the pantry for a less than ideal snack food. It’s one of my serious hot buttons for which someday I will probably need therapy.

Out of these three family facts (and with miraculous inspiration from the husband), we conducted the Kitchen Counter Plate Challenge. And it worked! And it is so simple! I had to share, because maybe it will work for your household too. This is the ultimate Healthy Snack Idea!

The Kitchen Counter Plate Challenge:

  1. Put together a pretty plate of snack foods that you’d actually like to see your family consuming. Make it all easy grabbing size and make it really colorful and fun looking. Choose foods that can withstand to be on the counter for a while.
  2. Leave the plate on a counter that everyone walks by throughout the day between meals and see what happens. Does the plate empty as people walk by it? Experiment with the contents of the plate… what works in your house?
  3. Place the plate in the refrigerator if you head out and won’t be near the counter for a bit. (Or throw it in a big Ziploc and take in the car – kids will eat whatever is around when they are just sitting in the car with nothing to do.)

My Kitchen Counter Plate Ingredient Suggestions:

  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Bell Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Green Beans (you can blanch these in salt water to make them tastier)
  • Nuts
  • Berries
  • Cherries
  • Apricots
  • Pickled Vegetables
  • Pepperoncinis
  • Olives
  • Artichoke Hearts
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Raisins
  • Melon Balls
  • Homemade Popcorn made with Coconut Oil

This is a great challenge for kids, no doubt. We didn’t even tell the kids what we were doing, just started leaving out a veggie plate and they came by and grazed instead of riffling through the pantry. Don’t underestimate its value for the adults in your house as well. Often we are so busy and focused on a million other things that mindless eating occurs. How great is it to gently push that mindless eating into a nutrient rich experience!

Take the challenge and see if fruit and veggie consumption increase around your place!



Weekly Tip: Evaluate Your Primary vs Secondary Eating


It’s Michael Pollan’s COOKED week here at the Lean.Green.Kitchen. All posts this week will be inspired by something I pulled out of this book.  Hopefully we can celebrate at the end of the week that I have actually finished the book!


I’m knee-deep in Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and really enjoying it.  One new concept I read fascinated me and made me evaluate my own habits. I wanted to share it with all of you. It’s a human behavior called “secondary eating” and is defined as eating or drinking while doing something else.

A USDA study published in 2011 showed that Americans now spend on average 78 minutes a day engaging in secondary eating, including while watching television, while engaging in paid work and while traveling in a car. This is interesting, but not that shocking, right? Eating dessert in front of the tube, lunch at the desk or snacks in the car is pretty common. I was, however, shocked to learn that this number of minutes is now more than “primary eating.” Primary eating defined as the meal times when we sit down with the goal of eating a meal.

Pollan says, “Since 1977, we’ve [Americans] added roughly half a meal’s worth of food to our daily intake, most of it in the form of secondary eating.” And food eaten during times of secondary eating is rarely nutrient rich and health building.

So this week’s tip is to put a little consciousness into how much time you spend eating and identify if it is primary or secondary eating. By increasing your primary eating and decreasing your secondary eating you bring more awareness to the act of consuming food, allowing you to assess if/when your body has eaten what it needs. You also most likely will reduce the amount of snacks, “convenience” food, and late night treats that are being consumed without you really even paying much attention.

If you are in the mood for a delicious chocolate chip cookie, for example, then by all means find (make!!) the best tasting cookie and sit down and enjoy every crumb. Then go about your business. Where is the value in inhaling ten cookies while watching TV and not really even processing that you’ve eaten them?

I know from experience that there are a million reasons to have lunch at your desk while at work. But perhaps we should really evaluate if making lunch secondary is truly necessary most of the time and if it really serves you best to cram down a few bites while not stopping your day. Only you know the answer to this, but make sure that you’ve put thought into the pros and cons of eating like this long-term.

Snacks in the car can save the day – especially with little ones and especially well thought out snacks that support your health goals. They can also sabotage meals (and eating plans) if haphazard and chosen under hunger stress. Every food corporation out there would like you to eat their snack in your car. And they have added salt, sugar and fat to help their processed food product taste best. They have also colored it with food dyes, packaged it and put it everywhere that is easy to get to when you are out of time. If you are consistently secondary eating in the car, you can make your entire day better just by planning ahead and choosing snacks that support your body and health goals.

So evaluate your primary and secondary eating and decide it there are any changes you could make to improve your health and your life. Then tell me all about it!



Quick, Easy and Healthy Sweet Treats

sweet treat

Like many of us, I love a tasty sweet treat some time after dinner and before bed (you know, like after the kids go to bed!) When I started cleaning up my food act and really evaluated how much sugar I was consuming, I knew I needed to find a plan that satisfies that little part of my stomach that my family calls our “treat spot.” No matter how full you are from dinner, the “treat spot” is always ready for dessert.

As I’ve mentioned in my Food Rules, I enjoy a refined sugar filled treat pretty much once a week. But what about the other six days a week? Here’s a list of my favorite sweet treats:

  1. Sliced fruit with fresh whipped cream. This is a wonderful way to fully appreciate the seasons of fruit. It’s exciting when something new shows up at the farmers market.  We do occasionally purchase a pineapple to pretend we are on a tropical island – everyone in the family is a huge fan.  During the winter months we use frozen berries or bake apples.  I whip a pint of organic heavy whipping cream with a dash of vanilla extract and less than a tablespoon of turbinado sugar for the whipped cream. It makes a lot of whipped cream that our family slowly uses throughout the week.
  2. Apple slices with almond butter and a few dark chocolate chips on top. This combo always hits the spot. You can get fancy and add shredded coconut on top, but I’m an old-fashioned dipper, so I just make three piles (apples, almond butter, chocolate chips) and dig in!
  3. Tea and toast. A warm cup of herbal tea with a little honey and a crunchy piece of toast with butter (made from grass-fed cows milk) makes a nourishing and fulfilling evening snack. If you have a beautiful favorite clean jam, that would make a lovely addition.
  4. Chocolate dipped strawberries. These are so easy and decadent! Place a saucepan with an inch or so of water in the bottom on the stove top and turn on heat to medium-low. Place a metal mixing bowl on top (to make a double boiler) and pour in 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips and a tablespoon of coconut oil. Use spatula to stir around until the chocolate and oil are melted and incorporated together.  Turn off heat. Dip clean, dry strawberries into the chocolate to cover and place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Once you are finished dipping your strawberries, place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so (until chocolate is cool and hardened).  Enjoy.
  5. Chocolate covered frozen bananas. Use the same chocolate from above and heavily drizzle over quartered bananas on a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with chopped nuts if desired.  Place in freezer and enjoy about 30 minutes later.
  6. Homemade ice “cream.” A family favorite recipe heavily adapted from the Vitamix Whole Food Recipe book by my husband Matthew, this creamy treat makes us give thanks for the power of our Vitamix blender. It can be made in any blender, but the better the blender the creamier the ice cream.

Recipe: Thew’s Sherbet


  • 1 cup Coconut Milk
  • 1lb any frozen fruit (Strawberries and Peaches are favorites)
  • 1/4 cup Maple Syrup
  • 1/2 t Vanilla Extract


  1. Blend to smooth.
  2. Serve soft or freeze for harder consistency.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

Sweet Treats


What clean treats do you enjoy after dinner?

Weekly Tip: Use Fresh Herbs {Cilantro}


Any meal can be elevated with the addition of a chopped fresh herb. We have enjoyed a bunch of cilantro in our weekly farm box for the past few weeks and I was recently reminded of what a powerhouse herb it is. Cilantro is a known detoxifying herb, due to its ability to “chelate” (a fancy word for remove) heavy metals from the system (such as mercury, aluminum and lead). It is also packed with antioxidants (more concentrated than fruits and vegetables for the most part) and is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory.

All of this and it tastes great too! EXCEPT to some people who belong to the I Hate Cilantro Club.  Have you heard of this? Some people taste soap when they taste cilantro and can’t figure out why the rest of us love it. Julia Childs was a soapy cilantro person, so in my book that makes this affliction legit.  My apologies to those of you with this issue – we’ll pick another herb in the weeks to come!

For my cilantro lovers, here’s a tasty fresh salsa that includes the peaches that recently appeared at the farmers markets. It’s holding me over until the tomatoes are ready!


Recipe: Peach Cilantro Salsa


  • 1 Peach (small dice)
  • 2T Cilantro (chopped tiny)
  • 1/2 Spring Onion (minced)
  • 1 squeeze of Lime (to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Optional: 1T Jalapeño (minced)


  1. Mix it all together.
  2. A little time in the refrigerator helps the flavors meld together. Good luck waiting that long!
  3. Serve over tacos, with chips and/or guacamole, on bruschetta — whatever works!

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 2

Cilantro is also wonderful blended in a pesto. Or soaked in chilled water with melon for a vitamin water. Or chopped up and used to top meats, beans, salads, humus, Mexican specialities, and Thai soups, to name a few. Cilantro also aids digestion, so chewing a stalk with a few leaves (or pouring hot water over the stalks to make a quick tea) at the end of the meal can do a body good.

So let’s hear it… how many of you are in the I Hate Cilantro Club?

Do they have a club for us Cilantro Lovers?

Weekly Tip: Add Color to Your Plate

Color Plate

Celebrate the beautiful color of produce! Adding color to your plate results in additional nutrients, flavors and textures to brighten up and add interest to your meal.  As you work on your meal plans OR, for my spontaneous cooks, right when you are standing there plating your meals, ask yourself if there is a way to add some color.

Could you…

  • cut up some fruit for a side dish
  • sauté some greens with a little garlic for a bed for your protein
  • make a salad
  • add a few crudités on the side (carrots, celery, bell peppers)
  • finely chop up a herb to top salads, meats, grains (parsley, cilantro, basil…)
  • add mushrooms (fresh or sautéed) as a topper
  • place salsa or marinara sauce on the table for dipping
  • chop up kale super small and add it to something
  • grill up a bunch of veggies (or add a stick and call them veggie kabobs)
  • use frozen fruit instead of ice cubes in your water glasses
  • prepare a roasted vegetable plate (topped with a little shredded Parm, salt & pepper, and chopped parsley) for a starter/appetizer when everyone is at their hungriest
  • incorporate frozen veggies into rice and other grain dishes (spinach, peas, corn, carrots…)

Use your imagination and creativity and resourcefulness and amazing things can happen! Little additions every day can really add up to nutritional excellence.

What do you do to add color to your plate? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below…

Stay Hydrated

Stay Hydrated (Smoothie)

Long days, bright sun, a million activities, hard workouts… let’s all stay hydrated!

With store-bought sodas, juice, sports drinks all containing too much sugar and chemical additives, and water sometimes not enough or just a little too dull, here’s a round-up of clean beverages I’ve put together to keep us happy and hydrated.

“Vitamin Water” – My family (and friends) have been experimenting with making flavored water over the past few weeks by adding fruits and herbs to jugs of water and refrigerating over night. We learned the technique through a Facebook photo shared by a weight-loss program, and find the water refreshing. I’ve long been a fan of lemon, cucumber and mint in my water (makes me feel like I’m at a spa), but we’ve taken it to the next level with some more interesting combinations. Pineapple and mint, cantaloupe and cilantro, lemon and parsley have all been successes by adults and kids alike.


Here’s how to do it:  Chop up about a cup of fruit and a handful of fresh herbs. Place them in a gallon of water and refrigerate overnight. Strain out fruit and herbs (use them for a smoothie) and enjoy the fun and refreshing chilled water.

“Sports Drink” – Gatorade is not healthy! The ingredient list makes me cringe, but I know there is a need for a sports drink when working hard or long or in the heat. Here’s what I’m throwing together this summer for swim meets, yard work and hot yoga workouts – you know, when the sweat is about to flow!


Lemon-Orange “Aid”: Mix 2 cups coconut water, juice from a lemon and half an orange, 1T maple syrup (or honey), a pinch of salt. You can make it stronger or sweeter to your preference and dilute it with water and ice to what works best for you. I like to slice the other half of the orange into rounds and float them in the jar. The drink gets better after spending a night in the refrigerator.

“Recovery Drink” – My favorite new smoothie makes me so happy after a workout.  I can feel the yummy goodness building up my depleted muscles, supporting my gut, and refueling the system. And it’s delicious and filling. Boo-ya!!


Blend 1 ripe banana, 1 cup frozen fruit of your choice (I like an organic berry blend or an organic peach, mango, strawberry blend – both from Costco), 1/2 cup organic NOT sweetened Kefir, 1 1/2 cup organic coconut water. Makes two servings or about three cups.

“Party Drinks” – It’s BBQ/Outdoor Party season and that often means hours of mindless consuming. When the party is at your house be sure to offer some drink options that hydrate your masses. The bar could offer Orange Pom Spritzers. The beverage station could include fresh unsweetened iced tea (make a strong pot of your favorite tea and dilute with water and ice) served with lemon slices and honey. And be sure to include a large beverage jug filled with water (made fancy with lemon slices or mint leaves).

Keep calm and HYDRATE on…

Weekly Tip: Know The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen


Interested in reducing your pesticide intake? Make the most of your food budget by choosing organic fruits and vegetables wisely.

This month, the Environmental Working Group released the Guide to Pesticides in Produce for 2013. You have probably heard of the two lists that come out of this guide each year – The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen. The Dirty Dozen includes the fruits and vegetables found to be the most contaminated with pesticides. The Clean Fifteen includes the fruits and vegetables with the least pesticides found on them.

For those of us on a budget who wish to decrease our pesticide intake, these lists provide key information for where we may want to invest our money in organics fruits and vegetables.

Key Steps:

  1. Review The Dirty Dozen list and circle those items that your family consumes on a regular basis.
  2. Make an effort to look for organic options for those circled items highest on the list. For example, my family eats loads of apples, strawberries and celery, so I make my biggest effort to buy those foods organic.
  3. Move down the list as your budget allows. This year, I’m trying to find a reasonably priced organic grape distributor at the farmers market to add to our list, since grapes have moved up on The Dirty Dozen list and the kids love them.

It should be noted that pretty much every expert (including the Environmental Working Group) agrees that eating conventional fruits and veggies is better for your health than not eating them at all. Due to food access, budget limitations and a million other reasons many do not have the ability to purchase organic fruits and vegetables. Eat your fruits and veggies any way you can!!


  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet Bell Peppers
  8. Nectarines – imported
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Potatoes
  11. Cherry Tomatoes
  12. Hot Peppers


  1. Corn
  2. Onions
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocados
  5. Cabbages
  6. Sweet Peas – frozen
  7. Papayas
  8. Mangoes
  9. Asparagus
  10. Eggplant
  11. Kiwi
  12. Grapefruit
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Sweet Potatoes
  15. Mushrooms

If you don’t want to memorize this list and are lucky enough to have a smart phone, EWG has a phone app with the lists. Go to the App Store and search for Dirty Dozen.  Be sure to get the EWG app and not the dirty joke app. Or get both… whatever!

For lots more information on all this, check out:


Weekly Tip: Plan Your Meals!


Save time and money!

Decrease your stress!

Reduce your food waste!

Stay true to your food goals and eat (real) good food!

All you have to do is take a few minutes each week to PLAN YOUR MEALS!

Here are my thoughts on pulling together your meal plan:

  1. Decide what needs planning.  For my household, we can manage breakfast and lunch with some standard grocery list items and leftovers, but we always plan out our dinners a week at a time.
  2. Build meals around things you already have that need to be used.  Stick your head in your fridge and determine what needs to be incorporated into meals this week.
  3. Take notice of your schedule – what is going to impact meal prep timing.  Use the crock pot or grill for busy nights.  Both can be prepped the night before (which you will know to do because it was in the plan!!)
  4. Include input from family members.  Kids are MUCH more likely to eat meals they think they’ve been a part of designing.
  5. Try something new each week.  Really talk it up and make it exciting.
  6. Put together a weekly grocery list/farmers market list out of the meal plan.  We do our planning on Sunday mornings before heading off to the farmers market and after receiving our weekly farm box.
  7. Be flexible!  The world is going to conspire to sabotage your eating plan.  Go with the flow, make changes and substitutions as necessary, and figure out ways to squeeze your nutrient-rich meals (in whatever variation that works) into your busy schedule!


Up top is a photo of a sample weekly meal plan – this week from our house. This plan has already been sabotaged, because we were invited to be a part of a last minute BBQ on Sunday night. So boom, every meal moves forward!

Tailor your meal plan template to whatever fits your lifestyle and personality type. Matthew (my very pragmatic husband) wonders why I don’t keep all these meal plans and just reuse them.  If he were the food boss around here, there would probably be a spreadsheet involved.  If that’s your style too… by all means do it!  My meal planning is a part of my mindful eating meditation and I like to be in the moment as I am figuring it out.  By that I mean, it’s a few moments where I can use my higher brain function and space out from the loud little people roaming about the house.

There are some really neat meal planning services out there that can be quite helpful if you’d like to eat more meals at home, but don’t want to think much about the planning.  Clean Eating magazine has a section in the back (and on the web-site) that plans out all meals and snacks and gives grocery lists.  Nourish Network ( provides an amazing service that includes menus, grocery lists and how-to directions/timelines for beautiful dinners.  I think it costs approximately $5 a week for the on-line pdfs to be emailed to you.  I was lucky enough to be a part of their pilot when they were putting the program together.  It was SO nice!!  Nourish Network works seasonal produce into their menus, which I love.  100 Days of Real Food ( has five weeks worth of meal plans that you can access for free if you “like” them on Facebook.  They are very simple, family friendly, budget conscious, and dedicated to real food.  Love them.

Do you meal plan? If yes, what are your best tips? If no, any thoughts on trying it?

Weekly Tip: Eat dark leafy greens every day.

Kale bowl

What’s a clean eater to do if dark leafy greens aren’t in your current eating plan?  This was my predicament when I started hearing more and more about their nutritional excellence. Romaine and spinach I could do, I love salads.  But kale, chard, beet tops, collards and mustard greens – they were not in my comfort zone.

So here’s what I did.

  • Bought one bunch of kale at the farmers market (after asking which green was which!)
  • Came home, washed it and trimmed the ends a little.
  • Stuck it in the food processor and chopped it into little pieces.
  • Stored it in a Ziploc bag in the fridge with a paper towel in it to absorb moisture.
  • All week, every day I’d take out my baggie of kale and use a few small handfuls in various meals I made.

Not one person in my family noticed they were eating kale. It easily went into: soups, sauces, salads, spreads (humus, pesto, etc.), smoothies, quiche, enchiladas (any casserole, really), meatloaf and even muffins.

I’ve since learned to appreciate the taste of greens, especially when lightly sautéed with garlic and used as a bed for meats or roasted veggies.  But it was truly a process to get there.  And I still chop and hide kale into dishes on a regular basis because the little people are not as on board with the sautéed greens as the adults in this house.

Would you like to increase your consumption of leafy greens?  What are some ways you get them into your diet?