14 Tips for a Romantic and Healthy Valentine's Day
Valentine’s Day is meant to be a celebration of love. For many people, it’s also an extravaganza of chocolate hearts and other sweet and sugary confections. But it doesn’t have to be. When we asked five leading registered dietitians for healthy and romantic holiday tips, they had plenty to share. Read on to see some of their ideas.
1. BRING ON THE HEAT
Get saucy this Valentine’s Day with a dose of chili peppers. According to Rachel Johnson, spokesperson for the American Heart Association, chili peppers can make all the difference to your meals and your heart. “All that spiciness means there’s plenty of vitamin C to help the immune system.” Johnson suggests adding chili peppers to tomato sauce, low-fat mayo or hummus for a healthy treat. You can also make a hummus-filled baked jalapeno popper, suggests Rene Ficek, a registered dietitian with Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating. Simply halve the jalapeno and remove the seeds and placenta (the veins). Then stuff with hummus and cover with a mix of panko bread crumbs and sprinkle with cumin. Bake poppers in a 385-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 25 minutes until bread crumbs are slightly brown.
2. CHOOSE NATURALLY SWEET INGREDIENTS
Show your sweetheart you care with a healthy sweet potato side dish. They're packed with antioxidants like vitamin C and beta carotene, plus they’re high in fiber and vitamin B-6, as well as potassium, which plays a role in decreasing blood pressure. Here's a tip from registered dietitian Rebekah Langford: Wash and dry medium sweet potatoes and slice into 1/4-1/2” rounds. Use a medium and large heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out heart shapes. Soak them in cold water for approximately one hour to help make them crispier later. Drain potatoes and pat dry. Toss gently with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a cookie sheet and roast in a 400-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 30-40 minutes, flipping over halfway through, until golden brown and crisp.
3. INCORPORATE RED (AND NUTRITIOUS) FOODS
Make the most of the bright red beet on Valentine's Day. You can make a swoon-worthy salad by simply adding beets to your favorite mix of greens and veggies. Using a small heart-shaped cookie cutter, make red beet hearts, suggests registered dietitian Rebekah Langford. Prepare the salad and garnish with beet hearts. Another great way to go red this Valentine’s Day is to add shredded beets to your pancake mix at breakfast time. It gives your pancakes a naturally red color and a power-packed dose of antioxidants. These help protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals and may be effective allies against cancer, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
4. GET COZY WITH COCOA
Snuggle up with your sweetie and a kicked-up cup of cocoa, suggests registered dietitian Samantha Cassetty. Stir a generous pinch of ground cinnamon and cayenne pepper into a mug of homemade hot chocolate. Garnish with a cinnamon stick. Cinnamon not only kicks the flavor up a notch, it raises the health factor: The spice has been linked to lower total and LDL cholesterol levels, and higher HDL cholesterol levels. You can also have fun experimenting with unsweetened chocolate beyond desserts, suggests Rachel Johnson. Try mixing ground coffee, unsweetened cocoa powder and spices to make a dry rub for grilling meat or add cacao nibs to a green salad with low-fat cheese for a crunchy bite.
5. ENJOY SOME WINE
Set the mood by greeting your Valentine with a glass of red wine, suggests registered dietitian Rene Ficek. Red wine contains resveratrol, the key ingredient and antioxidant that helps boost blood flow and improves circulation. As an added heart healthy bonus, these antioxidants also increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and protect against artery damage. Keep in mind: moderation is key, Ficek says. Women should still limit alcoholic beverages to one a day and men to two a day to in order to receive maximum health benefits. Pair dark chocolate with fruity, intense red wines that match the intensity of the chocolate, suggests Food & Wine magazine. Or, try grilling a steak with a mole sauce and pair with a robust red.
6. TURN YOUR NIGHT RED HOT
Bright red bell peppers are a festive way to heat up a home-cooked Valentine’s Day dinner. In addition to being a money saver, whipping up your own romantic dinner lets you add your own healthier seasonings and avoid prepackaged mixes that may contain a lot of salt, says registered dietitian Rachel Johnson. Her suggestion is to add some spice with these 39-calorie red pepper bell bites. Just remove the membrane and seeds first, then finely chop them up. Almonds and zesty lemon-pepper add flavor to this festive snack. “A little goes a long way and it’s the perfect Valentine’s appetizer.”
7. INDULGE A LITTLE
Pair almonds with a dusting of cocoa and you have the perfect stand-in for a small box of chocolates, says registered dietitian Samantha Cassetty, nutrition director for the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. And it’s good for you, too. One recent study found that people who eat tree nuts like almonds are less likely to be obese. Here's how to roast them yourself: First, coat raw almonds in a little bit of oil and then sprinkle with a mixture of unsweetened cocoa powder, sugar, and salt. Roast at 300 degrees Fahrenheit on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. When you’re finished, package them in a heart-shaped mint tin. You can find them at party favor and crafts stores.
8. ADD POMEGRANATE PASSION
For a beautiful presentation that packs a healthy punch, add some red pomegranate seeds to your pancakes, suggests registered dietitian Janet Brill. Recent studies suggest that pomegranates have beneficial effects on a number of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease as well as oral or dental health, according to the National Cancer Institute. You can also incorporate pomegranates or pomegranate juice in your Valentine's Day dinner by adding a pomegranate glaze on fish or chicken for a heart healthy and festive meal, suggests registered dietitian Rene Ficek. “For 70 calories per half-cup of seeds, you get a nice amount of calcium, magnesium and potassium as well as a shot of vitamin C and a whopping five grams of dietary fiber.”
9. END ON A SAVORY NOTE
Instead of an overindulgent dessert on Valentine’s Day, enjoy an after-dinner cheese plate, suggests registered dietitian Samantha Cassetty. Cheese is often touted as a heart-stopper due to its saturated fat, but Cassetty says research has shown that when people ate the so-called unhealthy fat in cheese, they had a lower risk of heart disease than when it came from other sources like red meat. Cassetty suggests healthy pairings for the cheese like dried apricots, walnuts and whole grain crackers. To really drive the Valentine’s theme home, registered dietitian Rebekah Langford uses a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out hearts in slices or thin pieces of cheese of your choice.
10. SIMPLE ROMANTIC BREAKFAST IDEA
Breakfast in bed is the perfect start to celebrating Valentine’s Day with someone special. Add a romantic twist to eggs and toast with a heart-shaped cookie cutter, suggests registered dietitian Rebekah Langford. First, cut out a heart in the middle of one slice of whole wheat bread. Spray both sides of bread with your preferred oil and place into saute pan over medium heat. Flip when golden brown. Place cookie cutter back into cut-out space; crack whole egg into the heart-shaped space and season with salt & pepper. Cook until egg is set to your preference.
11. CRAZY IN LOVE WITH QUINOA
Need a new healthy idea for your Valentine’s Day dinner? Try quinoa, suggests registered dietitian Rachel Johnson. "This is a great source of protein and also rich in fiber. And it's perfect on top of salads, mixed with bean and tofu, or mixed with vegetables." When planning a Valentine's dinner with friends, quinoa -- known for its high protein content and amino acid balance -- can be a healthy secret weapon and can serve as a great substitute for rice or other grains.
12. CHOOSE SURF OVER TURF
Switch it up this Valentine’s Day and make a seafood dinner, suggests registered dietitian Rachel Johnson. Fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and it’s advised to eat one serving of grilled or baked fish at least twice a week. (A serving is roughly the size of a checkbook.) Some good examples of fish to try include Alaskan wild salmon, trout and herring. In general, avoid fried fish, which is typically higher in fat, often trans fat. Season your fish with lemon juice and spices rather than cream sauces or salt.
13. GO A LITTLE NUTTY
Skip the candy and unhealthy sugary chocolate confections this year and make your Valentine’s Day goodie bags healthy, suggests registered dietitian Rachel Johnson. Here’s how: First, adorn brown paper bags with cute holiday stickers. Then, fill them with assorted nuts (no more than 140 mg sodium per labeled serving). These are great for handing out at parties or just snacking and eating on-the-go. Heart healthy nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts are a must-have staple for your kitchen cabinet. Be mindful of your portion size when snacking on these savory treats, says Johnson. Stick to one-fourth of a cup, which is about 180 calories. Also, if you will be giving these out to children, skip the peanuts, as many kids have peanut allergies. Your best bet will be to always check with the parents.
14. SHOW THE LOVE WITH HEART-HEALTHY WHOLE WHEAT
Whether you're in charge of the entrée, sides or appetizers this Valentine’s Day, consider making the switch to whole wheat, says registered dietitian Rachel Johnson. It provides more fiber than white flour and is more filling. “Make sure it’s 100 percent whole wheat, so you can enjoy the full benefits of the fiber and antioxidants. You can also use whole wheat flour to bake and create adorable V-Day treats like sandwich cookies. “The cookies do taste healthier,” says food blogger Diana Johnson. “But they still taste good.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Are you celebrating Valentine’s Day this year? Why or why not? What are you planning? Will you try any of these tips? What are some of your favorite nutritious treats to serve on Feb. 14?