Chex It Out!

I timed my Whole30 program just right so that I would be finished up by the Super Bowl – a  friend- and food-filled day for most. Once you finish the Whole30 program, you are supposed to add certain foods back into your diet gradually, adding only one category (i.e. dairy) for one day, going back to Whole30 eating for two days, then reintroducing something else (i.e. gluten-free grains) on the next day. This process is designed to help you identify how your body reacts to certain foods and how they make you feel. My gluten-free grains day landed on Super Bowl Sunday so I decided to make a chex mix that was sure to be a safe play for the big game.

Sweet & Salty Gluten-Free Chex Miximg_4428

  • 4 1/2 cups Corn Chex
  • 4 1/2 cups Rice Chex
  • 1 1/2 cups Multigrain Cheerios
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 cups gluten-free pretzels
  • 1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil or ghee, melted
  • 1 tbsp seasoned salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Mix the cereal and nuts on a large baking sheet or roasting pan. Combine the worcestershire sauce, coconut oil, seasoned salt, and garlic powder and mix well. Pour the seasoning mixture over the cereal and nuts and toss to coat. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour, stirring the mixture every 15 minutes. Remove the mix from the oven and allow to cool for several minutes before adding the dried cranberries and pretzels. Makes about 30 servings (about 1/2 cup each) << that’s a ballpark estimate.img_4428

Nutrition Information: 1 serving – Calories: 148 cal  Total fat: 8g  Saturated fat: 3g  Sodium: 134mg  Carbohydrates: 16g  Dietary fiber: 2g  Sugar: 4g  Protein: 2g

Sweet & Salty Gluten-Free Chex Mix: Tara Tested, Tara, friends, and family approved! This sweet and salty snack mix was a winner! The only thing missing from this batch that could have made it better (in someone special’s opinion) would be those round little rye crisps. The addition of dried cranberries added just enough sweetness to balance the saltiness of the seasoning, while the nuts added that hearty crunch. My friends and family enjoyed the mix before, during, and after the game – it was difficult to stick to just one serving! I was happy to have contributed something that I knew was compliant with my Whole30 reintroduction plan, but also something that everyone could enjoy. (Pssst, I didn’t only eat gluten-free things all night…but I made a valiant effort and paid close attention to how I felt the next day…bloated).


Whole30 Reflections

It’s done, I’ve finished my first (maybe not my last) Whole30! If you aren’t familiar with the Whole30, it is a program designed to reset your nutrition, stop unhealthy cravings, restore a healthy metabolism, promote healing of your digestive tract, and a slew of other things – in short, it’s designed to change your life. The program works by eliminating certain foods and food groups for 30 days. After this time you can then begin adding foods back into you diet slowly to learn how certain foods may have been affecting you.

I had heard about Whole30 a little over a year ago from my aunt and thought “no grains for a month, with the running I do…no way!” I continued to hear about the program from my clients, friends, or on social media and became more and more curious. As a registered dietitian, I find it helpful to try certain diets so that I am better able to speak to their benefits/drawbacks with my clients – and also share some personal tips that worked for me! So now that my 30 days is said and done (Day 30 was 2/1) here are a few things that worked for me:

  • Prepare meals ahead of time: It definitely pays to be prepared. My go-to breakfast were mini egg quiches prepared in muffin tins. I often made a dozen of these on Sunday or Monday and had them throughout the week. My typical breakfast was 2 of the egg quiches with an apple and almond butter. I had fun experimenting with different mix-ins and my favorite combination was peppers, onions, and bacon. I also made a few crock pot meals in advance so I was sure to have compliant foods for lunch and dinner during the week. It is easy to stay on the program when you have meals/snacks prepared.
  • Sparkling water: One of the hardest parts of this program was remaining compliant in social settings. Social gatherings are almost always centered around eating or drinking, and it can be tough to resist joining the group. I stuck to fun-flavored LaCroix and Sprindrift sparkling waters (and willpower) when there was alcohol around. It helps when you’re friends are supportive too!
  • Have a buddy: With that being said, it is very helpful if you can recruit a friend or family member to join you on this 30 day journey. A couple of friends did the program at the same time as me and it was helpful to be able to text them and share experiences, temptations, or successes. There were some times I was really tempted to cheat, but a quick text to Holly (my no. 1) kept me on track! Thanks girl.
  • Larabars and RXBARs: These bars came in handy when I was in a bind! I often kept a stash in my office, car, or gym bag in case of an “emergency”. There are few bars on the market that comply with the program, and these were my favorite. I typically had them before or after a workout, or sometimes for breakfast on the go.

Whole30: Tara Tested, Tara Approved! Even though it was challenging, I am really happy  that I decided to do the Whole30 and proud that I completed it successfully. Over the past 30 days I felt like I had more energy, definitely slept better (so many dreams!), and although it’s not the point of the program, lost a few pounds! My intention for doing the Whole30 was to clean up my eating/drinking habits and start the year off fresh – I can confidently say that this program helped me do that. I am motivated to continue eating this way, but now that I’m a few days out from day 30, I’ve started to add some things back into my diet and am really paying attention to how they make me feel. More on that later…along with a recipe for gluten-free chex mix. Have you tried Whole30? What was your experience like?

Halfway Homemade Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

It seems like there is always a container of hummus in the refrigerator – and with good reason! I love hummus as a snack with carrots, snow peas, or cucumbers and even as a spread on a sandwich. Although original hummus is delicious, sometimes I want a little added flavor without making a special trip to the store. Here’s a quick way to jazz up your original store-bought hummus:

  • 1 cup original hummus
  • 1-2 roasted red peppers (jarred with oil)
  • 1 tsp dried basil

Finely chop the roasted red peppers and pour into a bowl or food storage container. Add the hummus and mix well until the peppers and hummus are combined. Add dried basil and stir again. Enjoy!

Halfway Homemade Roasted Red Pepper Hummus: Tara Tested, Tara Approved! This revamped hummus tastes just like the flavored variety you can get at the store. You don’t need many ingredients or time to alter the flavor of the hummus you may already have at home. Try this method with different ingredients to create a “hummus bar” the next time you entertain, serve with fresh veggies and pita for an easy crowd pleaser!

Rosemary Garlic White Bean Dip

Everyone loves a good dip. Unfortunately, some of our favorite dips can be laden with butter, sour cream, or cheese – which can pack a TON of extra calories. And who gets away with just having one scoop of dip at a party? I know I don’t!

I was on a quest to find a healthy, dairy-free dip when I stumbled across this recipe. White beans and olive oil make up the base of this dip so you don’t have to feel guilty about going back for seconds, or thirds.

Rosemary Garlic White Bean Dip

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, or 2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2, 14-oz cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Heat olive oil in a sauce pan over low heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Be careful not to burn the garlic. After rinsing and draining the beans, add to a food processor or blender. Add the olive oil/garlic/rosemary mixture and lemon juice. Puree until the dip is smooth. Add the dried cranberries and pulse until combined. Before serving, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with dried cranberries and fresh rosemary. Serve with celery and carrot sticks.


Rosemary Garlic White Bean Dip: Tara Tested, Tara, Family and Friends Approved! I’ve made this recipe several times over the holidays and it has been a hit. A nice recipe to have on hand if you entertain guests with dietary restrictions (dairy-free, gluten free) or those who are watching their waistline. Cannellini beans add fiber, protein, and B vitamins to your diet, while olive oil is a source of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. It doesn’t take long to prepare and can even be made in advance. Dig in!

Don’t Dump December! D.TOX Recap

For many, December is a month of holiday parties, indulgence, and saying over and over to ourselves that we’ll start to eat better come January 1st. But why wait? I decided to not “dump December” and made a commitment to eating healthy, nourishing foods during the most tempting time of the year. This weekend marks the end of my 14 day Life Time D.TOX program and I feel great!

Here is a quick snap shot of the program:

  • Just 14 days!
  • Week 1: 1 D.TOX shake per day and 2-3 program-friendly meals
  • Week 2: 2 D.TOX shakes per day and 1-3 program-friendly meals
  • The D.TOX eliminates common inflammatory foods including: cow dairy, gluten/wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts (and peanut butter 😮 ). Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages are also eliminated.
  • Go ahead and enjoy ALL the veggies you could dream of (except corn and the creamed variety), lots of protein, goat cheese, healthy fats, fruit, and gluten-free starches (rice, quinoa, oats)!

Life Time D.TOX: Tara Tested, Tara Approved! To be honest I was a little nervous as I started this program – no yogurt, eggs, or peanut butter?! I thought – what am I going to eat? I live off of peanut butter! 13 days later I can say that I’ve survived without the stuff (almond butter is allowed and makes a great substitute 😉 ). I haven’t felt deprived while on this program and have enjoyed trying some new recipes and experimenting with different ingredients. I’ve also noticed that my cravings for sweets and carbs has diminished – so much so that I was inches away from a pint of Chocolate Peanut Butter Haagen Dazs and didn’t even want a bite! Shocker. Since beginning the program on 12/6/15 I’ve lost 5.8 lbs and my body fat percentage is down 1.4%.

As my program ends and I enter the thick of the holiday season I am motivated to continue eating this way – because I’m enjoying the way I feel! I will be smart about adding back in certain foods and paying attention to how my body feels. Let’s be real – I’m going to enjoy a glass of wine and some of my favorite spinach dip on Christmas Eve, but just enough to make my tastebuds happy. It’s all about learning about yourself and what foods make you feel your best.

Wishing you happy and healthy holidays!

El Salvadorian Eats

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to spend a week in El Salvador through my dietetic internship at Missouri State University (MSU). It was the trip of a lifetime and such a rewarding experience! We worked with an organization called Convoy of Hope; a faith-based, international, humanitarian-relief organization based in Springfield, Missouri. While in El Salvador with Convoy we visited several schools, an orphanage, a nursing home, Mother’s Clubs and other organizations with donations, food, and supplies. We also had the opportunity to try A  LOT of traditional El Salvadorian cuisine…


Mother’s Club Lunch

One of my favorite meals we had on the trip was prepared by one of the Mother’s Clubs. The women in the Mother’s Clubs learn a skill or trade that they can convert into a business to support themselves. We ate lunch at one of their restaurants and were served a delicious meal of chicken, pico de gallo, rice, vegetables, and tortillas. The pico de gallo was the best I have ever had – so fresh and perfectly seasoned, and the chicken was cooked to perfection.


Another favorite dish we had on the trip were pupusas! Pupusas are thick handmade corn tortillas that can be filled with cheese, loroco (a green similar to spinach), beans, or meat (typically pork). We had these on several occasions and they hit the spot each time. My favorite combinations were the cheese and beans, and cheese and loroco.


I also got to try a BIG glass of horchata! Horchata is a traditional beverage that in El Salvador, is typically made with morro seeds. It tasted a little different at each place I had it, but this one had a subtle peanut butter flavor – fine by me!

El Salvadorian Eats: Tara Tested, Tara Approved! I could go on and on about this trip and what an amazing experience it was, but to stick to my Tara Tested ways, I thought I would just give a little snapshot of the new foods I got to try in this new place! I had packed peanut butter snack packs and granola bars for our hotel room thinking I might be hungry – silly me! I don’t think I have ever been full for so many consecutive days than I have on this trip. I must give credit to our host and guide, Edith, who introduced our domestic palates to these new tasty dishes (and expanded our waist lines). 🙂


Slim By Design

Changing things up a little bit on Tara Tested with a book review of Slim By Design by Brian Wansink, Ph.D.!

First, a little bit about the author. Wansink is a professor at Cornell University, and also the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. He is an expert in eating behavior and has also written Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. His research is all about food and how certain factors can affect our eating behavior – really interesting stuff.

2014-11-07 15.22.52

Slim By Design focuses on making changes to our everyday environments that can help us lose weight (or prevent further weight gain). The book covers 5 main food environments that we encounter all the time: our home, our favorite restaurants, our grocery store, our workplace, and our kid’s schools. Each chapter focuses on one of these places and what can be done to make them a little healthier or maybe just less unhealthy. This book emphasizes the idea that working with human nature, rather than against it, is the best way to reverse weight gain. Often times people believe that losing weight or becoming healthier requires dramatic and drastic changes to their lifestyle and diet (sometimes true), but this book provides simple solutions you can make to your everyday environment to make you slim by design.

Slim By Design: Tara Tested, Tara Approved! I’ll share a few of my favorite tid-bits from each section, but I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes to eat and values their health (that should be just about everyone). 😉

  • Home – you’re 3 times more likely to eat the first food you see in your cabinet than the fifth one. Reorganize your pantry so the first foods you see are the ones that are better for you!
  • Restaurant – ask your waiter for a glass of water right away and forgo the basket of bread or tortilla chips (this is a tough one for me, but if it’s not in front of you, you probably won’t miss it). Diners at Italian restaurants dipped their bread into 19% more calories of fat when given olive oil vs. butter, but they got tired of the olive oil more quickly and ate less bread than those given butter.
  • Grocery store – starving shoppers buy the same amount of food as stuffed shoppers, but they buy food that is less healthy. Chewing gum can help interrupt the cravings for convenience foods we experience when grocery shopping while hungry.
  • Workplace – if you buy lunch at work, grabbing a piece of fruit first can trigger a reaction of healthier choices for the rest of your meal.
  • School lunchrooms – renaming menu items to sound more fun (i.e. Big Bad Bean Burritos) can increase sales, yet placing cookies in the back of the line or behind the counter did not decrease sales.

Mindless Eating is a great read too!