Spinach apple salad with dates in balsamic dressing

Spinach apple salad with dates in balsamic dressing

Whether you need a fancy salad for Thanksgiving or just something deliciously different this time of year, you’ll love this seasonal salad. It’s colorful, sweet and savory all at once.

I made this salad over the weekend for Homepage | Cancer Support Community in a live cooking demo. I’ve been doing demos for them for about 13 years and love the community.

All about that base:

Spinach makes a great base in this salad and provides beta-carotene, potassium and vitamin C to your diet. Arugula or kale could also be used if you’re out of spinach.

If you use kale as your base, be sure to “massage it” to wilt the texture a bit. The salad can be made a day or two ahead of time when using kale.

Get fruity:

I used honey crisp apples in my salad, but Granny Smith apples or even Barlett pears would go well. Apples or pears add soluble fiber to your salad; the type that lowers cholesterol and blood sugar. They also improve the color and texture of the salad.

Dates are technically not a “dried” fruit, but because of their wrinkly texture, people think they are. They paired nicely with the tart apples and tangy balsamic dressing. These Medjool dates were provided by https://www.naturaldelights.com. I’m a paid partner for the brand and stand by its quality. Medjool dates provide potassium and fiber and have a chewy, sweet texture.

Including some form of dried fruit will add a chewy texture to your salads in addition to more color. Raisins, dried cherries, chopped apricots or prunes would go well.

Get cheesy: 

I typically add a small amount of some type of cheese to my salads. This adds a little more dimension to the salad and savory cheese goes well with fruit. You can use blue cheese crumbles, feta cheese or shredded Parmesan. Or, keep the salad vegan and leave the cheese out!

Dress it up:

Making your own dressing is super simple and so much tastier than bottled dressing. I love the richness of balsamic vinegar, but apple cider vinegar would go well, too. This recipe makes 1/3 cup dressing, which is the perfect amount to dress your salad. Don’t drown your salad in dressing!

If you want to add a different twist, substitute ginger paste for Dijon mustard. This may make the dressing a little spicy and less tangy. A few red onion rings would add another layer of flavor to the salad if you have them on hand. Drizzle the dressing right before serving. Enjoy!


1 (10 oz) bag fresh spinach

2 honey crisp or another firm apple

1/3 cup chopped pecans

2 Medjool dates, chopped

2 Tbsp. crumbled feta cheese

3 Tbsp. canola oil

3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. honey

1 tsp. Dijon mustard


  1. Place the fresh spinach (or other greens) in a large salad bowl.
  2. Add the chopped apples, dates, pecans and feta cheese.
  3. In a separate small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the canola oil, vinegar, honey and Dijon mustard.
  4. Drizzle the dressing and toss to coat the salad right before serving.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 227 calories, 16.6 grams fat, 18.4 grams carbs, 3.3 grams protein, 4.4 grams fiber, 4.6 mg cholesterol, 97 mg sodium

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Grape Oatmeal Cups from the Family Immunity Cookbook by Toby Amidor

Grape Oatmeal Cups from the Family Immunity Cookbook by Toby Amidor

I love when the recipe stars align and I have all the ingredients in my kitchen to whip up something new. And this was great timing as I’m always trying to get my teenage daughter to eat something (anything) for breakfast. I also get requests for “grab and go” types of items from clients.

These gluten-free, nut-free grape oatmeal cups from cookbook author and RD, Toby Amidor Nutrition  fit the bill. This recipe was taken with permission from her upcoming book The Family Immunity Cookbook- set to release at the end of October. Pre-order yours here: The Family Immunity Cookbook: 101 Easy Recipes to Boost Health: Amidor, Toby: 9780778806806: Amazon.com: Books

The beauty of this recipe is its simple ingredient combination as well as nutritional profile. Rolled oats are a whole grain that’s a good source of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. Sunflower seeds provide polyunsaturated fat, fiber and a bit of protein. Grapes are a source of pectin; a type of fiber that also helps reduce cholesterol.

Make them vegan

To make the recipe vegan or egg-free, you can substitute a flaxseed egg by whisking 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with 3 tablespoons of water. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes before adding to your favorite recipe. In this case, you’d need twice as much. Canola, avocado or olive oil could be used in place of butter in the recipe as well.

Family reviews

Not surprising, my teenage daughter liked the grape oatmeal cups because they weren’t overly sweet and had a chewy texture. My husband, on the other hand, didn’t care for them for the exact reasons. He prefers things a little sweeter and with a firmer texture.

I cut the recipe in half as there’s one less mouth to feed since my daughter left for college. The recipe made 9 muffins, but I could probably fill the muffin cups up a bit. A full recipe could yield a dozen and a half depending on high you fill the muffin cups. *

The recipe could be used for breakfast or a post-workout snack given its high complex carb content. Pair them with a glass of cold milk, hot coffee or your beverage of choice!

Below is the recipe and ingredients. Enjoy!

12-cup muffin pans lined with paper cups and coated with non-stick cooking spray. * (may need 2 pans)

3 cups gluten-free, large flake (old-fashioned) rolled oats               2 large eggs, beaten

¼ cup unsalted sunflower seeds                                                          ¼ cup pure maple syrup

1 tsp. baking powder                                                                              2 Tbsp. unalted butter, melted

1 tsp. ground cinnamon                                                                        1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp. salt

1 ½ cups skim milk

1 ½ cups red or green seedless grapes, quartered

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the oats, sunflower seeds, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, maple syrup, butter and vanilla extract.
  4. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until well combined. Fold in one cup of the grapes until evenly distributed.
  5. Using a ½ cup, scoop the batter into each of the 12 muffin cups. Tap the muffin pans a few times on the counter to release and air bubbles. Divide the remaining ½ cup grapes among the 12 cups.
  6. Bake until the edges of the oat cups are slightly browned and a tester inserted into one or two of the muffin cups comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes.
  7. Remove the muffin pan from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before transferring the muffin cups to a wire rack to cool completely. Store at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Serves 6-9, 2 muffins each *

Simple Shrimp and Grits

Simple Shrimp and Grits

Did you know that grits may have been named by Native Americans? The word grytt means “coarse meal” or in this case, “ground corn meal”. Grits are a Southern porridge made from ground corn meal that’s often used in place of rice or potatoes.

I don’t remember the first time I tried shrimp and grits, but I have been a fan ever since. Grits are often used for breakfast, which is why you’ll often seen this dish on the breakfast or brunch menu. But you can enjoy this dish any time of the day.

Grits are a versatile, gluten-free grain with a creamy texture and savory taste. You can buy them in instant or slow cooking form. I like the instant grits when I want something delicious and fast.

Shrimp cooks up very quickly, too. I tend to buy frozen shrimp and thaw it out the day I’m going to use it. I rinse it in cold water for a few minutes then let it sit for about 20 minutes before removing the shell and deveining the shrimp.

Shrimp is a good source of protein as well as iodine, magnesium, zinc and other minerals. While it is a source of dietary cholesterol, it is relatively low in total and saturated fat.

I love the combination of creamy grits with savory shrimp and veggies. Most shrimp and grits recipes use bacon or some form of sausage as well as cheese. I left out the cheese and added more veggies to mine for more color and texture. My recipe used garlic chicken sausage from Trader Joes, which was plenty salty and garlicy. The recipe didn’t need more of either.

Unfortunately, I am the lone shrimp consumer in my house. Consequently, my recipe makes 2 servings- both for me! You can certainly double or triple the recipe if you’ve got a crowd to feed.


1 Tablespoon canola oil

¼ white or yellow onion, diced

1 of each: yellow, red and orange mini bell pepper OR 1 red bell pepper, diced

1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

½ teaspoon dried oregano

8 large shrimp (fresh or frozen), peeled and deveined

1 garlic chicken sausage or other chicken sausage link, quartered

½ cup instant grits

1 green onion, diced


  1. Prepare the instant grits according to the directions and set aside. While they are cooking, prepare the shrimp and vegetables.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the canola oil on medium heat. Add the diced onions and peppers and sautee for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the Cajun seasoning and dried oregano to coat the vegetables then add the shrimp.
  4. Cook the shrimp for 5 to 7 minutes until slightly firm. Add the garlic sausage and cook along with the shrimp and vegetables for 1 minute.
  5. Serve the cooked shrimp and vegetables over the warm grits. Top with chopped green onions.

Makes 2 servings- can be doubled or tripled for a larger crowd.

Peanut butter oatmeal energy bites

Peanut butter oatmeal energy bites

Now that September is here, most kids are back to school- leaving their parents or guardians scratching their heads about quick ideas for breakfast and snacks. Adults also benefit from breakfast to fuel their brains and bodies for a long day ahead.

I cringe when my daughter runs out the door empty handed. We try to keep bananas, dry cereal, string cheese and other quick food on hand when time is tight, but there are days when breakfast is simply skipped.

Granola bars are fast, but don’t offer much in the way of decent nutrition. Even the ones dubbed “high protein” can be high in saturated fat and sugar. If you buy them, look for ones that are nut or seed based with 5 to 7 grams of sugar per serving max. Ideally, the bars should have less than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving as well.

A recent client that frequents fast food restaurants asked if there’s “anything else out there” for breakfast that’s quick and healthy. There’s LOTS of things that fit that criteria including:

  • String cheese and whole grain crackers
  • Greek yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit
  • Peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread
  • Hard cooked egg and toast
  • Trail mix with cold cereal, nuts and dried fruit

If you need another idea, try this quick breakfast or snack recipe. Chances are, you have most of the ingredients on hand and if you don’t- there is always room for improvisation.

When possible, include foods containing protein (nuts, seeds, eggs, low-fat dairy products) as well as fiber (rolled oats, whole wheat bread, whole grain crackers, whole grain pasta and rice) when possible. These help manage blood sugar and appetite and maintain long term energy.

If you’ve got someone with a nut allergy in your family, substitute sunflower butter for peanut butter. You can also use almond butter (not allergen free) if you prefer that over peanut butter. Raisins or chopped dried cherries can be used in place of chocolate chips.

I serve these with milk, but you can enjoy them with coffee, tea, water or whatever suits your fancy. I don’t advise alcohol, of course!


2 cups rolled oats (not instant)

2 Tablespoons ground flaxseeds or chia seeds

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup peanut butter (I use natural peanut butter with the oil on the top)

2 Tablespoons soy, almond or cow’s milk

¼ cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips or raisins


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rolled oats with the chia or flax seeds.
  2. In a small, microwave safe bowl, combine the vanilla extract and peanut butter and heat for 30 seconds until sunflower butter is melted.
  3. Add the peanut butter mixture to the oat mixture, then stir in the soy milk and combine.
  4. Allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes to cool before adding the mini chocolate chips in.
  5. Form the mixture into 1” balls and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

Makes 18 energy bites

Tomato and Cucumber Salad in Creamy Balsamic Dressing

Tomato and Cucumber Salad in Creamy Balsamic Dressing

If you’ve got the thyme, I’ve got a great tomato recipe for you. Ever wonder how restaurants make that super creamy, tangy, balsamic vinaigrette? Now is your chance to learn! It’s much easier than you think.

With tomato season in full swing, you’ll love this simple tomato salad recipe that pairs so well with cream balsamic dressing. The salad is just 3 ingredients, but you could easily make this into a grain bowl with cooked quinoa, barley, farro or other hearty grain. Kalamata olives or feta cheese would also compliment this salad well.

Tomatoes are a great source of cancer-fighting vitamin C and lycopene. They’re also a source of fiber and potassium, two nutrient we could all use a bit more of in our diets. Cucumbers provide water and fiber in our diets and a small amount of vitamin C. I like the color and crunch they add to salads and salsas.

Any type of tomato will do here. Grape of cherry tomatoes are simple to cut and would save some chopping time. You’re looking for roughly 3 cups of chopped tomatoes in the recipe along with 1 cucumber and a dousing of red onions. I find raw onions of any kind to be a flavor bully, so I tend to go easy on them.

This tomato salad could also be added to traditional lettuce, spinach or kale salads to increase the number of servings as well as veggies. It goes well with any greens and will keep a few days after dressing.

A few salad tips:

  • Balsamic vinegar STAINS! If you spill it while mixing the dressing, clean it up immediately. You might need a Magic eraser if it’s been sitting a minute.
  • Plain soy-based, cashew or coconut based yogurt could be used in place of Greek yogurt if you want to make the salad vegan.
  • White vinegar could be used in place of lemon juice.
  • Dried oregano or basil can replace dill. If you’re out of balsamic vinegar, red wine or apple cider vinegar could be used.
  • Dress the salad right before serving to keep it fresher, longer.



  • 3 large beefsteak or other tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cucumber, quartered
  • 1/4 red onion, diced


  • 2 Tbsp. non-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. dried dill
  • 1/4 tsp. seasoned salt


  1. Combine the tomatoes, cucumbers and onions and a bowl.
  2. In a mixing up, combine the Greek yogurt, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, dried dill and seasoned salt.
  3. Drizzle the dressing over the tomato salad right before serving.

Makes 6 servings. 



Vegan Mediterranean Chick Pea Salad with Tahini Dressing

Vegan Mediterranean Chick Pea Salad with Tahini Dressing

Got a bumper crop of tomatoes? I’ve got you covered. This salad combines all the goodies of a Mediterranean diet in one bowl. The salad is vegan, but can be modified with the addition of cheese, grilled chicken, fish or shrimp if you like.

The Mediterranean diet has been ranked number one by US News & World reports for 3 years in a row. Why, you say? Maybe because it’s loaded with health benefits including reduced rates of cancer, heart disease and obesity. AND- it’s delicious and sustainable.

A Mediterranean diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins like beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, lean poultry and fish and low-fat dairy products. This type of diet is high in fiber and antioxidants to help fight disease. It’s not restrictive and can be versatile and affordable.

The key to this delicious salad is the creamy dressing made with tahini. Tahini is an oily paste made out of ground sesame seeds. It’s typically used in hummus and makes an excellent dressing. If you don’t have tahini on hand, try natural peanut butter (the type made with just nuts and salt).

Health benefits of each ingredient:

Greens– high in lutein and beta-carotene to protein your eyes. A source of potassium to help lower blood pressure. Vitamin C protects against cancer and heart disease.

Tomatoes– a source of lycopene to protect against prostate and ovarian cancer. A source of vitamin C and potassium.

Chick peas– a great source of soluble fiber to help lower cholesterol. A plant-based, inexpensive source of protein.

Olives– high in mono-unsaturated fat to help sustain HDL (healthy cholesterol) levels. A source of sodium for flavor, low in carbs.

Cucumbers- high in water for hydration.

Onions– a source of quercetin (and antioxidant to protect cells) and inulin- a pre-biotic fiber to protect your gut.

Tahini- a source of polyunsaturated fat as well as zinc and magnesium.

Lemon juice– high in vitamin C



4 cups romaine lettuce, chopped (can sub spinach leaves or arugula)

1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

½ cucumber, chopped

½ cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

1 Tbsp. diced red onion


Juice of 1 lemon or 3 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/3 cup tahini

1 clove garlic, minced

½ tsp. cumin

½ tsp. oregano

1-2 Tbsp. water (as needed)


  1. Place the lettuce, chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and red onions in a large bowl.
  2. In a large measuring cup, whisk together the lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, garlic, cumin and oregano. Add water to make a thinner dressing.
  3. Drizzle dressing over salad and toss before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

This recipe was shown on Fox 19 in Cincinnati earlier today. Check out the video: Chickpea Salad with Lisa Andrews – clipped version (fox19.com)

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